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  1. We had a rather slow start to the morning, because our train from Zagreb to Ljubljana was at the slightly awkward time of 12.36. There are several trains a day between Zagreb and Ljubljana but it isn't possible to buy the tickets online in advance, so we had to wait to buy them at the station this morning. As so often with international tickets, I'd struggled to find any reliable mention of what they might cost online, so I was very happy when it turned out to be €9 each I'd budgeted for it to be about €20 each and so this, combined with the extremely cheap prices in places like Varaždin yesterday, meant that we had a fair amount of Croatian kuna left; so much that it seemed like it would be worth trying to change it into Euros. We followed signs for an exchange office in the station, but when we got there it turned out that they were only able to change Euros into kuna and not the other way round. The woman there gave us some instructions about how to find another exchange office; she spoke very fast, but I understood it as go outside, go round a corner and down some steps. We set out to do that, but the only steps we could find looked like they were leading down to a subway route to other platforms. It didn't look too hopeful, but Tim decided to explore them anyway while I waited above ground with the baggage. I waited for quite a long time.... and when he eventually came back, it turned out that there was an entire underground shopping centre down there that we didn't know about The good news was that there was indeed an exchange office down there too, so he had managed to change our excess kuna into €50 The platform for the Ljubljana train was really busy and it was a bit of a mad scramble when the train arrived. There seemed to be a lot of backpackers travelling between Zagreb and Ljubljana (or possibly further afield, as the train continued on to Villach on Austria). We found some seats in a compartment that didn't have any labels to say seats were reserved and were just getting comfortable with our baggage, when some girls arrived to say that they had reserved three of the seats in this compartment. Some other people moved so we were okay, but when the conductor came round to check our tickets, I asked him whether there were free seats somewhere else, or how we could tell which seats were reserved. He announced that this was a train with no reservations, which was rather odd, as the backpackers had obviously booked their tickets through some sort of travel agency and paid for a reservation. At least we knew that if anyone else turned up, we could tell them to go and speak to the conductor about their reservation It takes around 2.5 hours to get from Zagreb to Ljubljana, which is not because it's terribly far but mainly because the train wastes the best part of an hour at the border. Although both countries are now in the EU, Slovenia is in the Schengen area and Croatia isn't, so there was a Croatian passport check, followed by a Slovenian passport check, followed by a Slovenian ticket check. Once the train is moving again it's a really beautiful journey though, following the course of the river Sava through some steep wooded valleys. We finally arrived in Ljubljana at 15.15, to find that it was raining. Oh dear Luckily we didn't have far to walk to our apartment though, and it turned out to be really nice. There's a living area with a sofa and TV... ...behind which is hidden a bedroom area. There's also a nice kitchen/dining area... ...with a modern-looking bathroom behind. Ljubljana is not a particularly cheap place, so the apartment works out at about £70/night, on top of which we have had to pay a tourist tax of €2.50 each per night. Cheaper apartments were available, but I chose this one because of the location (it's really near the town centre, but also within easy reach of the train/bus stations) and the fact that it had air-conditioning (which seems fairly rare for apartments in Ljubljana). Once we had unpacked a bit, we set out to see a bit of the city. The apartment is really close to my favourite bridge, Zmajski Most (Dragon Bridge). We walked along the river Ljubljanica, admiring the views. Before long we were able to get glimpses of Ljubljana's castle, which towers above the town. There are several other bridges across the river, in addition to the Dragon Bridge. We followed the river until we came to Ljubljana's main square: Prešernov trg. There's a beautiful pink Franciscan church here. There is a large statue of Prešeren, a famous Slovenian poet, in the middle of the square. And there's a great view up to the castle from here We walked a bit away from the river, through colourful streets. This impressive building is now part of the University of Ljubljana, although originally it was the parliament building of the Carniola region, during Habsburg times. Eventually we found this square - Novi Trg - which probably has the best view of the castle From here we crossed the river and walked along the other side.... ...until finally we got back to the dragon bridge Unfortunately it had started to rain again by this point, so we had to give up and go back to the apartment. Here's hoping the weather improves for the rest of the week!
  2. Our plan for today was to visit the town of Varaždin, located about 50 miles to the north of Zagreb. We had visited here once before, in 2013, but that was during winter, so I thought it would be fun to see it in summer too You can get to Varaždin either by bus or by train; the bus is quicker, so probably most people's preferred option, but I like travelling by train and remembered it as a very scenic journey from last time around, so we decided to give the bus a miss. Part of the reason that the train is so slow is that it doesn't seem to take an entirely direct route to Varaždin. The other reason is that it stops at an incredible number of stations en route, many of which were so small that they looked more like bus stops in the middle of nowhere than actual train stations. It was indeed a pretty journey though, taking us through a hilly and forested countryside. We arrived in Varaždin just after 11.30 and faced the same problem as last time we were here: not being able to find the town centre, because it isn't signposted from the station. Luckily I could just about remember the direction we had taken last time and we soon had confirmation that we were on the right track when we came across Varaždin's beautiful pink cathedral. The cathedral is not far away from the town's main square. At the far end of the square is the town hall. The centre of town is full of colourful little streets and we wandered around them for a while. There are several colourful churches too. Eventually we got a glimpse of the town's most striking sight: the castle. It really only was a glimpse: the castle is hidden behind these big embankments, which were built to help protect it from the Ottomans. You have to climb a path up the embankments to get a better view You can then follow the path around the top of the embankments and see the castle from all angles. A castle was first built here in the twelfth century. It was significantly rebuilt during the sixteenth century, giving it the form it takes today. It's a lovely place to stroll around in the sunshine, and it was definitely warmer than last time we were here Once we'd seen the castle, we walked around the streets of Varaždin once more, on the look-out for a place to have lunch. I remembered the previous meal we'd had in Varaždin as being a cheap one and sure enough, when we found a restaurant we weren't disappointed. We had a feast of spaghetti bolognese and bread, followed by chocolate pancakes and coffee, and accompanied by water, wine and beer... and all for the price of 175 kuna (approximately £20)! There was just time for a final walk around Varaždin before it was time to start the long train journey back to Zagreb. We've had a fun few days in Croatia Tomorrow we will be moving on to the final country of this holiday: Slovenia!
  3. After the early start yesterday we had a more relaxed start to this morning I had a lie in, then we enjoyed the novelty of a hotel breakfast, before setting out towards our destination for the day: Samobor. Samobor is a small town, around 25km from Zagreb, in the direction of the Slovenian border. I had read online somewhere that it was supposed to be the best day trip from Zagreb, so was interested to see what it would be like. The town isn't on a train line, so we set off towards Zagreb's main bus station in search of a bus. The internet suggested that there would be a bus at 11.20, but when we arrived at the ticket counter we found out that there was actually an earlier bus at 11.00, which was a bonus. The tickets cost 31 kuna each (less than £4), which also seemed like good value. The journey to Samobor took around half an hour, although it felt like longer in the very hot and un-airconditioned bus. It wasn't a busy bus though, so at least we didn't have to fight for seats When we got off the bus at Samobor's bus station, it wasn't initially very clear either where the town centre was or what the timetable for the return buses might be. Fortunately we eventually found a road sign to help with the first problem, and solved the second as well when we realised the timetable for each bus was pinned to an outside pillar near to where that bus departed from (as opposed to there being a central timetable on display inside the bus station building). Following the directions to the town centre, it didn't take us too long to arrive in Samobor's main square. The main church in the town is yellow (though looks like it could do with a bit of re-painting!) A small river runs through the town, crossed in various places by little bridges. This covered wooden bridge in particular was rather unusual. The internet had said that it was possible to walk alongside the river. We found a path, but within 10 minutes or so we'd come to the end of it. We turned around back in the direction of the town centre... ...and this time found a longer path in the opposite direction. There were some lovely views of the river... ...and in the distance we caught sight of the ruins of Samobor castle. The path we were following alongside the river eventually began to turn upwards into the forest. As the path became increasingly steep, we realised it must be leading up towards the castle. It was hard work, but eventually we got there. As it's a ruin, the castle is free to enter and walk around. The castle was originally built in the thirteenth century by supporters of the Czech king, who was engaged in a war with Hungary. The Hungarians soon took control of the castle and the town of Samobor itself. The castle was occupied until the end of the eighteenth century, after which it gradually began to decline and fall into ruin. There was hardly anyone else at the castle when we were there, so we were able to explore as much as we wanted. There were some beautiful views back down towards the town... ...and of the surrounding countryside, which is quite hilly and forested. I particularly liked the view of the blue sky behind these two windows The path which we had climbed up on was quite steep, so on the way down we decided to try another path which looked like it might turn out to be a bit flatter. Happily it turned out that it was, and judging by the number of people who passed us on their way up, this is probably the main route that most people take from the town. On the way we passed the chapel of St Anne, which was constructed in the eighteenth century. From there it wasn't long before we got a familiar view: the yellow church in the centre of Samobor. Soon we were back in the pretty town square once again Although it was past lunchtime by this point, we weren't really hungry after our big breakfast. That turned out to be a good thing, because although we did walk around Samobor for a while, the only things we could find were cafes rather than restaurants. We decided to catch a bus back to Zagreb, and go out for a meal there in the evening instead
  4. Today feels like a long day, because it got off to a very early start. We'd agreed with the lady who owned the apartment that we would check out at 7am, which was the time we needed to leave in order to get to the station on time for our first train of the day, but it felt like a little bit too early when the alarm went off this morning! We somehow managed to get packed and have breakfast by 06.55 and met the lady outside the apartment to give back the key. She offered to drive us to the train station, which was really kind of her, though it was a bit of a tight squeeze in her car with our suitcases. She doesn't speak any English, so we had to converse in German during the journey. It definitely felt a bit early to be speaking German But she did explain to us that the reason why German is the main foreign language spoken in this part of Hungary is that Lake Balaton used to be holiday destination that both East Germans and West Germans were able to visit, so families who were separated by the Berlin Wall used to come here on holiday to meet up. Thanks to the lift, we got to the station earlier than expected and had a while to wait before our 07.47 train to Balatonszentgyörgy. Balatonszentgyörgy is only about 10 minutes away by train, so we spent longer waiting for the train than actually sitting on it. We then had to wait until 09.08 for our connecting train to Zagreb, which was coming from the direction of Budapest. Balatonszentgyörgy isn't a very big station, but luckily there were some benches where we were able to sit and read. Around 9am, we started to hear announcements about our train; firstly in Hungarian, and then (luckily!) repeated in English. It turned out that it was delayed by 10 minutes... then by 15 minutes... Eventually we could see a train approaching on the horizon. This was accompanied by a further announcement, this time only in Hungarian, the only word of which I could understand was something which sounded like "Keszthely". "Keszthely" was repeated several times, which didn't make a whole lot of sense, because the train definitely wasn't supposed to be passing through there on its way to Zagreb. Our confusion increased as the train pulled into the station and we realised that the signs on the side of the carriages also said "Keszthely". Was this our train or not?! There were a few conductors standing on the platform so Tim asked one of them and it turned out that this was the correct train, but that the Zagreb carriages were right at the far end of the platform. It was a very long platform, so we had a bit of a panicked jog from one end to the other. It felt like we passed about 10 carriages labelled "Keszthely" before we finally got to one that said "Zagreb". Phew! The train was due to arrive in Zagreb around 12.30, so we settled down for a long journey. The train crossed the border at a Hungarian town called Gyékényes, where we stopped for a fairly long time in order to have a Hungarian passport check swiftly followed by a Croatian passport check. The train started moving again, before coming to a halt again shortly afterwards in the Croatian town of Koprivnica. The conductor announced that we all had to leave the train here and get on a different train. Oh dear! It was a bit of a mad rush, but we managed to get off the Hungarian train and cross the platform to a Croatian train waiting on the other side. We found seats and even had somewhere to put our luggage, so were just getting comfortable again when the conductor walked down the carriage announcing that we would soon need to transfer to a bus! Sure enough, the train halted in a small place called Križevci, and we all had to pile off into four buses which were waiting outside the station. The buses then drove us to a nearby town called Vrbovec, where we all got off and boarded another train. Initially I wondered whether this was what always happens, in which case I felt like there had been a bit of mis-information online about this being a direct train to Zagreb, but it turned out that we were just unlucky and that they are doing repair works on track between Vrbovec and Križevci. We finally arrived in Zagreb around 13.15, about 45 minutes later than originally expected. We are staying at the Hotel Central again; a slightly old-fashioned hotel near the train station where we have stayed several times before. We checked in, then set off into the centre of Zagreb in search of something to eat. It was a bright sunny day in Zagreb, which contrasted with the rather rainy weather which had descended over Balaton last night. There were lots of beautiful flowers in the squares as we strolled down from the train station towards the main square. The view of the yellow art pavilion was slightly obscured today by what seemed like preparations for a concert. Before long we got to the main square, which was also slightly obscured by preparations for people to watch the World Cup. There were lots of stalls selling Croatian memorabilia. In between all of this, we could just about still make out the statue of Ban Jelačić. We remembered that we'd once eaten at a nice restaurant by the cathedral, so set off in search of that. Once there, we debated for a while over what to have before finally settling on a plate of grilled meat to share between two. It would have been a vegetarian's worst nightmare, but it was really delicious After lunch we went out to admire the cathedral, which unfortunately is still being renovated (it was being renovated when we were last here in 2015 as well). The tower which has now been repaired does look very pretty to be fair. There were more flowers as we walked back down from the cathedral towards the main square... ...and found the first of two Esperanto-related items which we know are in Zagreb. This is the word 'bonvenon' (Esperanto for 'welcome'), included on a 3D model of the town. The centre of Zagreb is built on two hills, with the first being home to the cathedral and the second home to the parliament. We started climbing up towards the second, passing this large statue of St George on the way. The parliament building itself isn't particularly impressive, but St Mark's Church next door to it definitely is. It definitely wins the prize for best roof as far as I'm concerned Not far from the church is the Lotrščak Tower, from which a cannon is fired every day at noon. Fortunately we had missed that today; it took us rather by surprise on one of the first occasions we came to Zagreb and didn't know about it! From in front of the tower there is a view down across the whole of Zagreb. Now that we'd seen the main sights, it was time to investigate the book shops in the main square We may have come away with several bags full, which we will now have the challenge of fitting into our luggage home! On the way back to the hotel, we deliberately crossed the road to see the second Esperanto-related item in Zagreb. The plaque records the fact that it was from this building that the first Esperanto magazine in Croatia was published in 1909. All in all it's been quite a tiring day of travelling, but it's nice to be in Zagreb again, and we don't have anything that we need to get up early for tomorrow, so I am looking forward to a lie in
  5. Sunday was a relaxing day in Kotor. We were slightly perplexed when we woke up and found that there was no electricity, but our landlady soon appeared and reassured us that there had been a power cut in the whole area. I was glad that in an idle moment I had memorised the obscure phrase "Is the heating gas or electric?" from the "Renting a flat in Zagreb" chapter of one of my Croatian textbooks, or I wouldn't have had a clue that "struja" was the word for electricity. Our landlady was amazingly friendly but had taken my admission that I spoke a little bit of the language as a licence to carry on detailed conversations at full speed! My Croatian/Montenegrin was at the stage where I could almost always get the gist of what she was saying, but found it difficult to reply coherently in real time. We managed to communciate though, and the only time she lapsed into broken English was half an hour later when, with the power back on, she reappeared to say that she was baking us burek, but we needed to sit on the terrace for an hour and wait for it. The confusion on my face was more a result of the surprise that she was offering us a burek than that I hadn't understood what she meant, and the general confusion only became greater when she translated this into English as "My cake is ready at one clock" (the word "sat" in Croatian means both "hour" and "clock/watch"). When the burek appeared they were amazing; enormous, still warm and filled with cheese. The view from our terrace during the day was marred somewhat by the arrival of a massive cruise ship in the Bay of Kotor. I looked up the name of the ship on the Internet and found it had space for almost 3,000 passengers; a shocking number given that the population of Kotor itself is around 5,000. The majority of those 3,000 people spent the day traipsing around the old town in organised excursion groups and presumably being pleased that they could spend their Euros here after the inconvenience of them not being accepted in Dubrovnik. Montenegro doesn't have its own currency and, after a spell of using the Deutschmark, has adopted the Euro despite not yet being a member of the European Union. I doubt many of the cruise tourists made it to the top of the fortress and I bet even fewer of them were able to pronounce the word for fortress (tvrđava), which is probably one of the most difficult words I have tried to say this holiday! They certainly all missed the spectacular sight of the fortress walls being illuminated as dusk fell across the bay. We got a bit complacent about booking bus tickets after our successes on the holiday so far and didn't head out to the bus station a couple of kilometres away until late afternoon in order to book our tickets to Dubrovnik the next day. Imagine our horror then at finding that what we believed to be the only bus of the day - at 14.45 - was already sold out! Thankfully, it turned out that on Mondays, Wednesdays and Saturdays there is an additional bus which runs at 15.55 and there were plenty of seats left on that one. That meant we had almost another day to spend in Montenegro, so the next morning after kissing goodbye to the wonderful landlady and getting permission to leave our suitcases in her garage until later, we set off on an excursion to the nearby town of Budva. Or, perhaps more accurately, we tried to set off on an excursion to the nearby town of Budva... The timetable at the bus station in Kotor indicated that there were several buses to Budva every hour. Arriving just after ten, I purchased tickets for us on the 10.17 bus and we stood on the platform waiting for it to arrive. Our tickets indicated that we had been allocated seat numbers 33 and 34. No bus appeared at 10.17, but being aware of the relaxed attitude to time-keeping which is prevalent in this part of the world, I wasn't unduly concerned. About 10.25, a minibus pulled into the station. In appearance it was similar to a Ukrainian marshrutka (ie. twenty years past its best!) and, while it did display a small sign on the front indicating that it was going to Budva, it also clearly indicated on the door that it had a capacity of 27+1 people. It couldn't be our bus, then, because we had seats 33 and 34. There wasn't much space left on it anyway and there was a big queue of people trying to pile on, so we decided to ignore it and hope that our bus would arrive soon. A few minutes later another bus did arrive. This one was also a minibus, but much emptier, and also displayed a sign on the front which, at first glance, suggested it was going to Budva. Perhaps this was ours, then. Unfortunately, when I approached the bus driver to confirm, he explained that this bus had come from Budva and was going to Herceg Novi. We should have got on the other bus, which had just departed. Oh dear. Tim went back into the bus station to seek clarification from the woman in the ticket office. When she stated that the 10.17 bus had already left, he explained that there wasn't enough space; we had seats 33 and 34 but there was only place for 27. She shouted back at him in English that the numbers didn't refer to the number of seats on the bus but to the number of tickets which she had sold, ie. she had sold 34 tickets to a 27-seater bus. Right. Okay. In our defence, the numbers did appear next to the word for "seat", but there was nothing for it except to buy two more tickets for the 10.44 bus! The 10.44 bus, when it arrived, actually resembled a proper bus and had enough space for all the passengers to have a seat. Within half an hour, we had arrived in the seaside town of Budva. We had been motivated to visit it after seeing a beautiful postcard picture of its old town, although the Montenegro guidebook did warn us that it was a busy coastal resort and extremely popular with Russians and Ukrainians on package holidays. The guidebook's adjective "Eurotrashy" was probably a bit unkind, but it was immediately clear that it wasn't quite such a classy resort as Kotor. The extended sprawl of the town gave the impression that anybody who owned a small patch of grass was in the process of selling it to build holiday apartments. There were various signs for strip clubs and the like which gave the impression that it could be a bit seedy after dark. The driving around town was nothing short of manic and the best strategy for crossing the road seemed to be to say a prayer to the Orthodox God and just start walking in the hope that some vehicles might stop. That said, the old town itself was impressing, with big foreboding walls like in Kotor. The majority of the historical buildings were destroyed in a serious earthquake in 1979 and the town spent the best part of a decade rebuilding them. The stonework on this little church certainly looked rather new. Some of the little streets were still very atmospheric though. The day was a bit cloudy, but from the edge of the old town there was still a lovely view out to sea. Once we'd seen the main sites, we decided it was better to be safe than sorry and jumped on an early bus back to Kotor. It was a minibus this time, but we managed to get a seat after the driver made two Americans move their oversided rucksacks into the boot. We arrived in Kotor with plenty of time to have lunch, retrieve our suitcases and get back to the bus station for our 15.55 bus to Dubrovnik.
  6. While we were walking the walls in Dubrovnik yesterday, we had a great view of the island of Lokrum. We noticed it when we were in Dubrovnik last year, but didn't realise that it was possible to visit it. Since then I'd found out that the island, which used to belong to the Austrian Archduke Maximilian, is supposed to be a good place to visit if you're looking to avoid the hordes of tourists elsewhere in Dubrovnik. That was exactly what we were hoping to do on our last day in the town, so we decided to give it a try. Ferries to Lokrum run from the harbour in the old town every half an hour during the daytime in summer. We paid 60 kuna each (about £6.60) each for the return journey, which wasn't too bad and included some sort of entrance fee for exploring the island. The boat journey seemed like it was going to be nice and peaceful, until a couple of minutes before departure when a large group of extremely noisy Polish tourists came on board. By the time we pulled away, it was so busy that I was starting to worry that Lokrum wouldn't be any quieter than the old town. From afar the island looks quite small, as if it wouldn't be able to absorb many visitors at all. Somehow, however, once we arrived the majority of the other passengers on the boat seemed to vanish and we didn't see them again for the duration of the trip We started to explore. The first thing we noticed is that the island has a large population of peacocks, who don't seem to have any fear of humans and in fact seemed to be terrorising some of the diners at neighbouring tables when we were eating lunch. We spotted this family of peacocks with two babies wandering around the ruins of an old monastery. The Benedictine monastery was founded in the eleventh century. Parts of it were badly damaged during a serious earthquake in 1667 and it was later deserted by the monks. We spent some time exploring the ruins and the exotic gardens laid out by Maximilian. Our boat had docked on the far side of the island, so we had an excellent view out to sea but were unable to see Dubrovnik. We set of on a quest around the island in the hope of getting to the other side and finding a view back towards the old town. En route we found a salty lake, known as the dead sea, which some people seemed to be swimming in. It looked rather rocky to us! The island was very rocky in general and some of the paths were quite hard going. We climbed steeply upwards for some time and just when I was starting to give up hope, the path opened out and we got the view I'd been hoping for We managed to walk around almost the entire perimeter of the island, before heading back to the monastery where there is an outdoor restaurant to get some lunch. I tried ćevapčići, a Balkan dish consisting of pieces of grilled minced meat. The overall effect is a bit like eating sausages and they were really nice. The meal was made slightly stressful, however, by the high number of wasps and the aggressive stance of some of the peacocks, who were clearly expecting to be fed. By the time we'd finished eating the day was starting to turn cloudy, so it was time to head back to Dubrovnik on the boat. The sea was starting to get a bit choppy and there were a couple of enormous waves that made our stomachs churn as if we were on a rollercoaster. I'm glad I won't be sleeping on a cruise ship tonight
  7. We woke up on Tuesday morning in Dubrovnik to two unpleasant surprises: firstly, that it was pouring with rain and secondly that one of the cruise ships which had been in Kotor the previous day had followed us here. Postponing a visit to the town walls until Wednesday in the hope of better weather, we instead enjoyed a relaxing day exploring the Lapad suburb where our apartment was situated. While buying stamps to send our postcards in the local post office, we chanced across a display of extremely cheap books in Croatian and ended up with four for about £10, which ought to keep me going for several months with my current reading speed probably being that of a six-year-old. Fortunately there was a dramatic improvement in the weather on Wednesday, with brilliant sunshine and temperatures soaring back up to 34 degrees. We wanted to make the earliest possible start into the old town to enjoy the atmosphere before the narrow streets became swamped by cruise ship passengers. Although we got up promptly at 7am, we ended up setting off somewhat later than we had hoped because it turned out that the supermarket where we needed to buy bread for breakfast wasn't open until 8am. I figured we had until about 10am before the centre of town became unbearably crowded, which turned out to be a fairly accurate prediction. The sun was already starting to beat down as we made our way into the city. It was about 3km from our apartment to the old town and while most of that seemed to be uphill, towards the end we were rewarded with this magnificent view of the sea. The streets of the old town were still relatively deserted as we strolled around, with shopkeepers and waiters setting up for the day ahead. It was great to be able to appreciate some of the beautiful buildings without being trampled out of the way by herds of tourists on guided tours. We made it all the way to the old town harbour without encountering more than a handful of people. The view out to sea was fantastic, though at times we were in danger of being splashed as occasional waves leapt over the harbour walls. From there it was a race against time to get back across town to the entrance to the city walls before the cruise ship passengers struck. We made it - just! The many coaches which transport passengers from the main ferry port to the old town were starting to deposit their loads outside the main gate, but the tour guides were still busy trying to marshall people into the correct excursion groups. The walls were still reasonably busy, but nowhere near as bad as I'm sure they became later in the day. It's impossible to describe the amazing views as you walk the walls, so we have put together a sequence of photos instead: It takes about an hour to walk the walls and by the time we were getting towards the end of our journey, it was becoming increasingly busy. We skipped climbing to the top of the final fortress tower because we couldn't bear the thought of pushing up a narrow spiral staircase in a queue of people. When we emerged back down into Dubrovnik once more it was madness; completely overrun by thousands and thousands of cruise passengers. We left them to it, confident that we'd had far more fun exploring on our own this morning than they would following their leaders' parasols
  8. Our aim for today was a day trip from Zadar to the Plitvice National Park and back again. I use the word "aim" deliberately, because I had spent a significant amount of time in the weeks prior to the holiday trying to work out whether such an excursion was indeed possible as a day trip. The Plitvice National Park, which is both the oldest and largest national park in Croatia, lies approximately halfway between Zagreb and Zadar, and so is theoretically possible as a day trip from either city. The entrance to the park is just off what used to be the main road to Zadar, along which all the public buses from the capital used to run. Since the opening of a new motorway a few years ago, however, the number of buses passing through Plitvice has steadily decreased, so that there was only really one suitable bus we could catch in the morning and a bus back at 17.23 in the evening (which, if missed, would result in us being stranded for 12 hours!) On the one hand the journey sounded doable, but our guidebook had cautioned against trying to catch a bus from Plitvice, pointing out that there isn't a bus station (just a bus stop by the side of the road), that the buses only stop if they are flagged down and that they may simply drive past if they are already full. The same advice was repeated in various places on the Internet, but whether it was because people had genuinely been stranded or just because everyone else had read the same guidebook, it was hard to tell. The safer option was undoubtedly to book onto one of the many organised excursions from Zadar, which ferry tourists to and from the park on private coaches before leading them around on guided tours. I had initially been tempted by the security of this, but as we weighed the options up for one last time on Monday night, we decided that it was worth risking the possible inconvenience of being stranded overnight in a national park inhabited by bears to avoid the certain inconvenience of spending a day being herded around by a tour guide in a group of sheeple. I think we made the right choice It was a relatively early start, with our bus leaving Zadar at 9am. The journey to Plitvice was supposed to take two hours, but our driver wasn't overly concerned with the timetable, setting off ten minutes late and stopping at a service station for a 15-minute rest break, which most tourists on the bus spent confusedly getting on and off and trying to work out whether we had arrived in Plitvice or not. We eventually did arrive in Plitvice at 11.20 and upon alighting from the bus, were immediately accosted by a man offering to sell us bus tickets back to Zadar. Accosting people appears to be a legitimate way of drumming up business in Croatia; when a bus pulls into a major bus station, hordes of women with rooms to let start swarming towards it, and taxi drivers aren't content with sitting neatly in their taxi rank, where anyone who wanted a taxi would be sure to find them, but instead feel the need to mill around saying "Taksi?" in a hopeful manner to anyone who is so much as glances in their direction. I was therefore mildly suspicious at first, but he turned out to be representing a genuine bus company who had - quite enterprisingly - set up a stall on the opposite side of the road selling tickets to Zadar and arranged a bus 20 minutes before the official bus (of a rival company) was timetabled to depart. We paid 100 kuna each for our tickets, which was 10 kuna less than we had paid on the way out, and were able to go off and enjoy the park without worrying about our return transport. The Plitvice National Park is an interconnected series of lakes whose water is famous for being a remarkable shade of blue. Hundreds of waterfalls, ranging from tiny cascades of a few feet to the enormous "Veliki Slap" (Big Waterfall) at 78m pour into the lakes. An intricate series of wooden walkways and staircases lead around the sides of the lakes, enabling visitors to get fantastic views of the falls. The park is divided into two parts - the Upper and Lower Lakes - of which the Lower Lakes are the more famous and contain the picture-postcard views which anyone who has heard of Plitvice will doubtless have seen. They are also the place where the tour operators take their organised excursions and therefore can be extremely busy between 11am and 3pm in high season. We decided to start our day in the Upper Lakes where we hoped that there would be fewer people, then head to the Lower Lakes in the afternoon when the tour buses might have started to go home. It cost 110 Kuna (about £12) each to get in the park, and I spent an extra 20 kuna on a decent map. There is a system of signposted trails round the park, with the length of routes varying from 2 hours for the shortest to up to 10 hours for the longest. We opted to start with one of the shorter routes in the Upper Lakes (route E) and while we were wandering around attempting to find the correct start point, we caught our first glimpse of the lakes. Wow. Proof that they don't photoshop the postcard pictures; the water really is that shade of blue! We failed to find route E, so caught a boat across to the far side of the lake and started walking route F in reverse. Walking a route in reverse seems like quite a good idea actually, as it can be easy to walk past a large group of people coming the opposite way than to overtake them when you're all walking in the same direction! The Upper Lakes were quite peaceful though, as we had hoped, and at times the only other creatures admiring the waterfalls were the ducks. Our biggest problem was trying not to fall off one of the platforms and into the water; the views were so amazing as we made our way around the series of lakes that it was difficult to pay proper attention to your feet. We passed some beautiful waterfall: The Upper Lakes were so spectacular that I find it hard to understand that many people who come to Plitvice never visit them at all. We walked around for over three hours in total before catching a boat across the main lake to the place where the trails for the Lower Lakes are supposed to start. Once again we failed to find the trail we had been looking for, but instead began following a track which promised it was leading to a viewpoint. It was a steep slog uphill and I was starting to wonder whether we should turn back and try a different direction... when we found this: Probably the most amazing viewpoint I've ever seen! That was as close to the edge as I was going, though - there was a sheer drop on the other side. When zoomed in, you can see just how many little waterfalls are falling into the lake. It was getting close to 4pm at this point and we knew that we needed to start making our way back towards the bus stop. We had strayed slightly off the beaten track and I was starting to despair of us ever finding Veliki Slap, the biggest waterfall in Croatia. Although we were sure we were walking in the correct general direction, with time ticking on we decided to give up and follow a path back down to ground level. But five minutes after we stopped looking for it, we stumbled across the 78-metre waterfall by accident. Mission accomplished, from there we just had time to make our way along a few of the walkways in the Lower Lakes on our way back to the station for the land train which would drop us off near our bus stop. The journey back worked like clockwork, which was a relief Our pedometers revealed that we had walked nearly 15 miles and climbed the equivalent of 120 staircases during our travels. It's definitely possible to see a lot at Plitvice on a day trip, but the park is so large that you could easily spend a couple of days exploring. Maybe next time we'll do just that!
  9. When we booked our holiday to Croatia, one place we knew we definitely wanted to go back to was Zadar. With a beautiful old town situated beside an improbably blue sea, it quickly became one of our favourite destinations. Getting to Zadar proved to be a bit problematic though, with Ryanair offering only sporadic flights from the UK, so eventually we decided to fly with Wizzair to the nearby town of Split. The 9am flight was fairly late in the morning by our recent standard of holiday flights, so we were able to get up at the (comparatively) civilised hour of 4.30am before heading down to Luton. The flight to Split was amazing. I was lucky enough to get the winning combination of a window seat and a clear sky and was treated to fantastic views, firstly of the Alps and then of the Adriatic and some of the Croatian islands as we began our descent to Split. Landing at Split airport is not for the faint-hearted; the captain announced that we would be landing in ten minutes as the plane flew lower and lower across the sea, but with no land yet in sight I was starting to wish I'd paid more attention to the location of the lifevests during the safety briefing. It wasn't until we were less than 60 seconds away from touching down that the coast came into view and it became clear that the runway was on a small strip of land right beside the sea! Split airport is rather 'compact', with the result that baggage reclaim, passport control and customs somehow all fit into the same room. None of the guidebooks which I have read on Croatia give any indication of how difficult it is to get from the airport (which is located approximately 30km away) into the town of Split itself, making blithe references to an airport bus which conveniently meets every flight. The truth is that the airport bus meets every flight... of Croatia Airlines. If you're flying with a different carrier, you need to make your own arrangements, unless you are fortunate enough for the arrival of your flight to accidentally coincide with one from Croatia Airlines. There is, apparently, a public bus which comes to within a few hundred metres of the airport, but information available about it on the web is limited, even if you search in Croatian. Specifically, I couldn't find any confirmation about exactly where the airport bus stop was or whereabouts it dropped you in Split, although it sounded like it was potentially at a location 20 minutes outside the main centre. After a lot of fruitless searching I gave up and opted for the only other solution; a private transfer. There are a significant number of companies who offer taxi services from the airport into Split and if you book online in advance, you will have a driver waiting for you in the arrivals hall holding a sign with your name on it. We used Jam Transfer, who had good reviews online and indicated that the driver would wait for you at no extra cost if your flight was delayed. Sure enough, our driver was almost the first thing I saw when we walked into the arrivals hall and we were efficiently transferred to the main bus station in Split within half an hour. Although at a price of about €30 I'm sure it was significantly more expensive than the public bus would have been, I think it was worth it for the lack of hassle and peace of mind of knowing that we would at least make it to Split bus station, if not all the way to Zadar. The thing I was most worried about, you see, was that we wouldn't actually make it to Zadar. Buses are a very important method of transport in Dalmatia, because there isn't really a train line down the coast, and so the only way to get from Split to Zadar is by road. The system of buses is a bit primitive compared to what we are used to in other European countries, however, and it is very difficult to find out information about the buses in advance. The main bus stations for larger towns do have their own websites which publish timetables, but the most you are likely to learn from these is the departure time of the bus. Only very occasionally is there an indication of the time it might arrive at its destination and there is virtually never an indication of the ticket price. This is because the buses are run by a myriad of small regional companies who all seem to have their own routes and prices. A lot of the bus companies have their own websites too and these also (sometimes) display timetables which can give more information about the bus than the bus station version (although probably still not the ticket price, that seems to be classified!), but the departure times and bus frequency can differ between the two timetables and it isn't clear - to me, at least - which should be believed most. That is a mild irritation but the bigger problem for obsessive holiday planners who like to have the tickets for everything in advance is that you can't buy bus tickets online. Not all. Ever. Not from the website of the bus station and not from the website of the bus company. Not even if you speak Croatian. Advance online purchasing of bus tickets simply does not exist as a concept. Croatian guidebooks, however, are unanimous is advising that you purchase your bus tickets at least a day in advance for any travel along the coast in summer as places are likely to sell out. That means a trip to the counter at the bus station which is fine, if you happen to be in Croatia, but not very helpful if you want to travel along the coast on the Saturday you arrive from abroad. My worst nightmare was that we would arrive in Split, find all bus tickets to Zadar were already sold out, and spend the first day of our holiday completely stranded. As it turns out, I needn't have worried and I managed to buy tickets for a 14.30 bus without any problems. At a mere 85 kuna each, the tickets were even significantly cheaper than I had anticipated. With a bit of spare time before the bus departed, we even had chance to get a burger at the station bar. Split and Zadar are about 100 miles apart, but the bus journey took around 3 hours. Partly because the roads are quite curvy, partly because there were quite a few bus stops in smaller towns along the route and partly because the driver just seemed to go incredibly slowly. The vehicle wasn't quite up to the standard of LuxExpress but it was fine and the journey itself was exciting as we travelled along the coast and through mountains to Zadar. We arrived around 17.30, which was earlier than I expected, and despite getting slightly lost on the way to our apartment, we arrived there well ahead of 18.30 which was the time I had told the owner than we would check in. There was no one around, so Tim set off for the nearby Lidl to stock up on food while I waited with the bags. The apartment, when we eventually got into it, was lovely. The room itself is small but the space is cleverly utilised, with the bed being hung from the ceiling. When we first stayed here last year, I was a little apprehensive about the fact that this meant you could only access the bed via the ladder, but actually it's an extremely sturdy ladder and it would be difficult to fall off. The best thing about the apartment is how hi-tech everything is; there's a TV/computer which is connected to the Internet and has a large selection of music and films available for watching. The films are all in English with Croatian subtitles, which is great for me learning Croatian, so the first night of our holiday was a quiet night on the sofa with crisps, wine and a film I deliberately hadn't planned any excursions for Sunday, to give us chance to relax and enjoy Zadar. Our apartment is only a kilometre or so from the old town, so we were able to stroll into the centre after breakfast. Crossing a bridge over the marina, we soon found ourselves in one of the main squares, Narodni Trg. The EU flag was flying proudly with the national one. Split airport had lots of shiny new EU signs too. We walked through the narrow streets of the old town, though the city gate and round onto the seafront. After a walk along the coast, we explored the Roman ruins. Zadar has an interesting history, having been invaded by the Romans and then the Venetians, becoming part of the Austro-Hungarian empire, belonging to Italy after the First World War and only joining Yugoslavia in 1947. The city was bombed heavily during the Second World War, with the result that there are some concrete eyesores between the more attractive buildings, but an unexpected silver lining of the bombardment was that during reconstruction works in the city centre, significant Roman remains were uncovered. These are now on display outside the former church of St Donatus. This was the largest Roman column still intact: There are lots of smaller remains scattered around, which make an intriguing park: This is me with a smaller pillar and a monastery in the background: The centrepiece of the square is the rotund church of St Donatus, which has the remains of a human sacrificial altar inside: A line of sculptures leads from the church down to the sea: After exploring the ruins, we wandered along the seafront and back to our apartment to get some respite from the hot afternoon sun. The promenade in Zadar is an exciting place, with a unique sea-organ that plays music powered by the waves all day and a large circle of solar panels, known as the Sun Salutation, which absorb sunshine during the day and make pretty light patterns all night. We resolved to come for another walk round town in the evening to experience it.
  10. Today it was unfortunately time for us to leave Montenegro behind and return to Croatia, on our way back home. I had bought tickets online for the 10.10 bus from Kotor to Dubrovnik, and when I spoke to the daughter of the lady who owns the apartment the other day, I had asked her if she could arrange us a taxi to pick us up and take us to the bus station at 09.30. She said that she would do it, but something seems to have gone wrong somewhere, because when we were standing outside the apartment today with our luggage, after a final breakfast on our balcony overlooking the Bay of Kotor, there was no sign of any taxi. Initially I thought it was maybe just late, but as the minutes ticked by it became increasingly clear that it wasn't going to come, and so eventually I had to admit defeat and go and track down the lady who owns the apartments. She said she would call us a taxi straight away and that it would come within five minutes, which turned out to be the case, but in the midst of all this confusion we nearly ended up with a taxi all the way to Dubrovnik rather than just to the bus station! Eventually it was all sorted out and a beautifully air-conditioned taxi arrived to take us to the bus station, for the bargain price of €2.20. We were still there on plenty of time for our bus, which according to the timetable was due to arrive in Kotor at 10.00, so around that time we began anxiously standing near the entrance to the platforms, hoping to be among the first to get onto the bus. This bus was originating in Budva, so we knew there was the potential for it to already be quite full when it pulled into Kotor, and judging by our experience on Monday it didn't seem like there was much chance of us getting our reserved seats. 10 am came and went with no bus, as did 10.10 and 10.20. Finally, around 10.30, the bus pulled into the station. Mom made a mad dash for the luggage hold and we did indeed manage to be the first people to pay for our luggage. We didn't get our seats, but we did get seats quite close to them, and we were very glad that we had rushed when we later observed other people wandering up and down the bus, unable to find anywhere to sit. The bus driver did eventually manage to cram everyone in somewhere, and we were off. It took a while to get out of Kotor, but then we were once more on the beautiful road around the bay, admiring the views of Perast one more time, and then passing through Herceg Novi. A few miles outside Herceg Novi we suddenly came to a halt in a line of traffic, and I was worried that this could be an exceptionally long queue for the border, which was around 4 miles away at this point. We must have sat in the traffic jam for 20 minutes or so, but ultimately the traffic started moving again so we think it must just have been an accident somewhere further up the road. It all added on to the delay that our already delayed bus was experiencing though! Crossing the border was a different experience this time to on the way there. Both at the Montenegrin checkpoint and at the Croatian one, we all had to get off the bus one by one and show our passports individually to a policeman at a desk. This seemed like it took a long time, but it was actually better than having the passports collected up and taken off the bus; firstly because we don't like being seperated from our passports, and secondly because it gave us an opportunity to get some fresh air and stretch our legs. All in all it probably still took an hour to get across the border though, and so by the time our bus finally arrived into Dubrovnik it was about 14.15. That was just slightly later than its scheduled arrival time of 12.30, but that was actually good for us because we couldn't check into the apartment until 14.00 anyway. As we are just staying in Dubrovnik one night this time and leaving quite early tomorrow morning to get a bus to the airport, we had chosen an apartment near to the main bus station. It was quite easy to find, only a 5 minute walk away, although our hearts did sink when we saw that there was a huge flight of steps up to the door. We were met by the owner of the apartment, who gave us a quick tour and then asked us to sit down while he poured us a glass of the orangest looking orange juice you have ever seen. Closer inspection later revealed it to be orange and carrot juice! It wasn't very nice at all, but we all sat politely sipping it while he talked and talked about the best way to get to town, the best way to get to the airport etc. Eventually he left, and we were able to relax a bit before setting out to walk into Dubrovnik. It was a couple of miles into Dubrovnik from where we were and it was an incredibly hot day today, but after hours of sitting on the bus we really enjoyed the walk. It was particularly great to get the views out across the sea again, complete with flowering cacti. There were several cruise ships docked in Dubrovnik today, but when we got to the Pile Gate it wasn't actually too busy, because lots of people were leaving rather than arriving. The main motivation for us walking into town was that I wanted to use my spare kunas to stock up on some Croatian reading materials. From being in Dubrovnik last summer, I knew that there were two bookshops on the Stradun. We walked to the furthest one - Algoritam - first of all, where I was hoping to be able to pick up some translations of easy English books; perhaps something like Agatha Christies. I was surprised when we got to the front of the store that it looked closed, although according to the opening hours on the door, it looked as though it ought to have been open. Then we noticed that all the windows were papered over and it didn't look like there were actually any books inside... it must have closed down for good! That was a surprise, but luckily there was still the other bookshop, which is admittedly smaller but has a better quality selection of books. It also had very good air-conditioning, so we all spent a while inside browsing and after a helpful chat with the shop assistant, I came away with ten new books I asked her what had happened to the other bookshop and she explained that the chain had recently got bust, being unable to pay its debts! So it's not just the Algoritam shop in Dubrovnik which has closed down, but all their shops across Croatia. Laden down with books, we set off into the sun once more. We went for a walk around the old harbour... ...had a final view of Mount Srđ... ...and across to Lokrum too. It seemed amazingly busy in the harbour this evening, with dozens of little boats coming and going, and a mixture of locals swimming and fishing. We sat on a bench for a while to enjoy the views and then headed back into the town. We decided that for our last meal we wanted to go to a restaurant in Lapad which we had eaten at earlier in the week. It seemed like a good idea and the map showed that it was only 2.3 miles away, but it felt like much longer in the heat. Eventually we made it and settled down for another enormous meal. Mom and I decided we would order a bottle of Graševina wine, which we had tried one night in Montenegro and really enjoyed, although at 150 kuna for a bottle it felt quite expensive. I asked the waitress and she slightly confused me by asking me whether we wanted half a litre or a litre (it was only on the menu as a 0.75cl bottle). We went for half a litre, which appeared in a carafe and was delicious. Imagine our surprise when we got the bill and saw that we had only been charged 40 kuna! Perhaps asking for the wine in Croatian had helped Feeling very full, we strolled back through Lapad and along the harbour to the apartment, watching the sun set in the distance. It's been another lovely day, and we've had a brilliant holiday together in Croatia and Montenegro. We've packed so much in that it's difficult to decide whether our favourite bit was walking around the shady woods of Lokrum... ...strolling around the bay in Cavtat... ...walking around the walls in Dubrovnik... ...looking down on Dubrovnik from the top of Srđ... ...sitting on our balcony with this view of the bay of Kotor... ...climbing up to the church within Kotor's mountain fortress... ...attempting to paddle in the Adriatic... ...taking the boat to Perast... ...or exploring the old town of Herceg Novi. Each place has been different, but beautiful in its own way and I think it's fair to say that we have all had a great time
  11. It was another beautiful sunny day when we woke up in Dubrovnik this morning, with hardly a cloud in the sky as we sat on the terrace having breakfast. Our bus to Kotor was at 10am and the owner of our apartment had offered to arrange a taxi to pick us up just across the road from the apartment at 9. We were ready well in advance of the taxi, and stood by the side of the road, trying to find some shade under a palm tree while we waited for the taxi to arrive. It turned up exactly on time and whizzed us to the bus station in record time, following a series of shortcuts and narrow side roads which seemed more direct than the route which we had walked the previous day. The end result was that we arrived at the bus station around 09.15, so with plenty of time to wait before our bus to Kotor! We found a shady bench to sit on while we waited, and it wasn't actually too long before our bus arrived in its appointed slot. I assumed it wouldn't be possible for us to load our luggage and board until much nearer the departure time, but as a queue of people without luggage started to build up outside the door of the bus, I eventually realised that the driver was loading luggage onto the opposite side of the bus, and we needed to get a move on. He turned out to be the grumpiest bus driver that I have ever encountered. The man in front of us was obviously a bit confused about the concept of having to pay extra to put his baggage in the hold, and had a small bag which seemed to be attached to the side of a larger one. He had paid his €1 for the first bag and the driver had affixed a baggage label onto that, but when he then attempted to put both bags into the hold together, the driver went ballistic at him because he needed to pay another Euro for the second bag. It took a while before this misunderstanding was ironed out and we were able to get our bags in. The bus company was from Montenegro and I realised belatedly that he was charging people in Euros rather than kuna for the luggage, but fortunately when I asked him if we could pay in kuna that wasn't a problem. What did turn out to be a problem was getting our assigned seats on the bus. I had reserved 7 and 8 (next to each other) and 11 (behind) all on the same side of the bus, from where we ought to have a good view of the Bay of Kotor. Unfortunately it seemed to be one of those buses where people weren't obeying the proper seat numbers, and although we managed to get two of the reserved seats, number 11 already had a girl sitting in it. We tried suggested she move but then a slightly scary conductor lady who was sitting at the front of the bus checking the tickets intervened and told us that the numbers didn't mean anything and we just needed to sit wherever. Oh well! It was a beautiful journey anyway, with the bus firstly travelling up into the hills above Dubrovnik and giving us one more spectacular view of Lokrum and the old town as we drove past. Then we travelled through the Croatian countryside, towards the Montenegrin border. According to the timetable, the bus was supposed to arrive in Kotor around midday, but I don't think that had factored in the fact that there might be a wait at the border. I had indicated when booking the accommodation that we would arrive at 1pm, as I was expecting a delay of 20 - 30 minutes. It turned out to be quite a bit longer than that! We arrived at the Croatian side of the border first and pulled up into a lane behind several other buses. The bus driver disappeared off somewhere, perhaps to have a cigarette as he seemed to have a bit of a chain-smoking problem. Wherever he went, he had closed the door of the bus and we suddenly became aware of a bit of a commotion, as an American backpacker came to the front of the bus and was desperately trying to get off... because he'd just realised that he'd forgotten his passport!!! The bus driver returned shortly afterwards and there was a bit of an altercation, as the American tried to explain to him what had happened. As you can imagine, the driver was singularly unimpressed. There was much swearing and waving of hands, which culminated in the American having his luggage removed from the bus and being left at the side of the road as we all moved on across the border. Goodness knows how he was going to make it back to Dubrovnik! The Croatian police boarded the bus and took our passports away. After what felt like a long wait they were returned to the driver who passed them to the guy in the front seat, but then shouted at him when he made a move to start handing them back out. We drove through the brief stretch of no man's land which separates the Croatian border control from the Montenegrin one, with this guy holding an enormous pile of passports, and then the driver took them back to hand them over the the Montenegrin police at the other end. The drama continued at the Montenegrin border control. The bus pulled up into a lane and the driver started shouting and pointing that there was a toilet here. Numerous people got off the bus to take advantage of it. A Montenegrin policeman then started shouting and waving his arms, indicating that our bus was in the wrong lane and that it needed to join an adjacent lane behind several other buses. The bus reversed and drove to this other checkpoint, which was quite a way from where he had dropped passengers off to use the toilet. We can only imagine how some of them must have panicked when they emerged and found the bus was nowhere near where they had left it! There was another long wait here while all the passports were checked and stamped. The queue in the opposite direction, coming from Montenegro back into Croatia, was even longer and while we were waiting we saw one woman who seemed to be having some serious problems with her car. When she was nearly at the control point, ominous smoke started emerging from her vehicle, which got worse when she got out and lifted the bonnet up. A Montenegrin policeman came over and after a heated conversation, she was made to leave the queue and drive back in the direction she had come from; hopefully towards a garage! Finally the passports were returned and the entire pile passed down the bus for people to try and find their own. I think we all felt happier once we were safely reunited with ours! The entire process had taken around an hour, so it was already midday as the bus started driving away from the border and towards the first real town on the Montenegrin side; Herceg Novi. The driver seemed to have used up any goodwill he might have felt to mankind by this point, so our progress through Herceg Novi and then around the Bay of Kotor was punctuated by much honking of the horn and chain-smoking. The views were spectacular though, especially as we passed Perast, and the fact that he was driving with one hand while talking on the phone with the other was only slightly distracting, as we wound around the narrow bends alongside the sea. It was 1pm by the time we arrived in Kotor. I wasn't completely sure how far away from the main town our apartment was located, on account of it being one of those "bez broja" (numberless) buildings that are difficult to reliably locate on Google maps. There were various hopeful looking taxi drivers lurking outside the station. We went with the second one who approached us saying "taksi", and agreed a price of €5 to the apartment, which didn't seem unreasonable. The taxi turned out to be ridiculously hot, but the good news was that the apartment wasn't too far away, and 10 minutes or so later we were pulling up on the drive of the apartment. Before we had even finished unloading our cases from the back of the taxi, we were approached by the owner, who was quite flustered to see us as she thought we were going to be arriving at 4. I've got no idea how this confusion can have arisen, because I was sent an email by booking.com last week with a link to click and input our arrival time, and I know I had definitely said 1pm. But anyway, they seemed to have had some other guests checking out later, and they hadn't quite finished getting the apartment ready for us. The lady was very apologetic and brought us up to sit on the terrace while they finished cleaning the room. It was hard to complain when the view from the terrace was like this. They brought us a refreshing glass of orange, and we were quite happy to sit and drink it while admiring the view of the bay. It wasn't long before all the cleaning was finished, and we were able to get a proper look at the apartment. It turns out to be huge, with three bedrooms and two bathrooms, plus an enormous living room which features unusual decorations that include what appears to be a gun mounted to the wall. The most impressive thing was that we have our own water machine, a miniature version of the sort you would get in an office, complete with a new barrel of water to fix onto it when the old one runs out. This was a great surprise and is going to save us a lot effort in not having to buy bottled water and carry it back to the apartment. The apartment is in a very scenic location; this is the view from my bedroom And this is definitely the best view I've ever had from a bathroom! Once we had settled in, we set out for a walk to see if we could find some shops. The lady had explained to me that we could walk down a staircase by the side of the house, then down a small road to where there is a promenade with restaurants along by the sea. I was really glad she had told us about it because I had never found this promenade on previous visits to Kotor, and the steps looked quite private so I don't think we would ever have walked down them without knowing. We followed the instructions though and were able to have a very pleasant stroll along by the sea. Unfortunately there was a large cruise ship in the bay, slightly spoiling the view in the other direction. We found a small shop where we could get some milk, then later walked into the town to do some more serious shopping in the main supermarket. By the time we returned to the apartment after this, the cruise ship was just getting ready to depart, and we were able to watch little boats being hauled up to it, hear the announcements from the ship's captain, and finally watch it sail away in the distance, on its way towards Greece. The view of the bay without it was 100 times better In the evening we walked towards the old town and got our first views up towards the imposing fortress. We walked as far as the main square, where we sat outside and ate a very tasty meal of punjena piletina (chicken wrapped in bacon, and stuffed with cheese and ham). It was absolutely beautiful, and a nice relaxing end to our first day in Montenegro
  12. We tried to make an early start again this morning, having breakfast on the patio in the sun, entertained by the antics of the apartment owner's kittens We were at the Pile Gate before 9am and today we were successful in beating the hordes Sunday was supposed to be the quietest day of our stay in Dubrovnik, with only one cruise ship (carrying approximately 2,000 passengers) being in the port. We could really tell the difference compared to Friday and Saturday, with the Stradun looking beautifully empty for a change The price of a ticket for the Dubrovnik walls has increased this season to 150 kuna. This doesn't seem to have deterred any visitors though, and we were certainly willing to pay that price. I bought our tickets and then we began the climb up the very steep steps at the entrance. The first thing you see as you emerge out onto the walls is a close-up view of the Franciscan monastery. As we walked a bit further we could see that the Stradun was still really peaceful We soon got our first view of the beautiful Fort Lovrijenac. The latest craze in Dubrovnik this summer seems to be sea-kayaking, and we could soon see a number of people setting off on this potentially dangerous activity from the bottom of the fort. The walls continued to lead uphill from this point, closely following the edge of the cliff. When we turned around at this point we had a great view back towards Mount Srđ, which we were hoping to go up via the cable car later in the day. We rounded the next corner and had the first of many beautiful views out to sea, in the direction of Lokrum. After a while we thought we could just about make out Cavtat on the horizon as well. The walls were starting to get a bit busier by this point, with the first of the tour groups well on their way. What we found though was that they were all walking so quickly, seemingly in an attempt to get through their tour in the shortest possible time, that we were able to just step to one side and let them pass us, then enjoy the views in peace again until the next tour marched by. After Lokrum, the path around the walls became more level for a while and led around the edge of the old town harbour. We were able to look down on the places where we had been catching boats to Lokrum and Cavtat for the previous two days. We could also see rows of smaller boats lined up in the port. At one point as a tour group were pushing past us, our attention was caught by this shot; you can just see the statue of a bishop from the top of one of the town's churches, peeping up over the top of this red roof. At this point we turned another corner on the walls and the main views began to be towards the centre of the town rather than out across the sea. Although I've been here several times before, everything is so beautiful that it's hard to stop taking photos By this point we were approaching the final stage of the walls, which lead up towards the highpoint of the Minčeta Tower. As we climbed higher we had views which encompassed the entire town, plus the harbour and Lokrum for good measure. In the opposite direction we were now able to see Fort Lovrijenac again. Climbing up the tower itself is a little nervewracking, as this is the one part of the walls where there isn't a one-way system in place, so there are people coming up and down the same staircase at the same time. We managed to be strategic though, placing ourselves behind other groups of people going up and down so that they cleared a path and we were able to just follow in their wake! It was definitely worth climbing up there for the views. Eventually it was time to begin our descent back towards the Stradun. It was about 11.30 by this point, so not late enough to go into a restaurant for lunch, but we were all feeling pretty hungry after our exertions. Mom remembered that she had seen a bakery not far from the Pile Gate, so we headed back out in that direction and sat on a bench eating burek, before setting off for our afternoon activity: the cable car. I had thought this might be less busy than the walls, but it possibly turned out to be busier! Or, at least, because the cable car can obviously only accommodate a certain number of people on each trip up the mountain, quite a long queue had built up at the base station. The length of the queue wasn't helped by the fact that the one cruise ship in the port obviously had the cable car as one of its shore excursions, as there was at least one guided group of cruise passengers ahead of us in the line. We probably had to wait for around 30 minutes in the end and the journey in the cable car itself was quite short, but when we ultimately got up to the top of the mountain, the views were spectacular. It was impossible to get tired of looking at Lokrum in one direction... ...and the red roofs of Dubrovnik in the other. After admiring the views for a while, we stopped for a drink in the slightly posh terrace restaurant. We didn't join the waiting list for a table overlooking the town, but the view of the sea was pretty amazing from where we were sitting anyway. Suitably refreshed, we explored the top of the hill a little further. Once you turned your back on the sea, there were some beautiful views inland also. We realised belatedly that the strip of Croatia that Dubrovnik is situated on is actually quite small and that we were probably looking across to mountains in Bosnia. We followed a little track across the top of the mountain for a while, until it came to a dead end at this beautiful view of the Elaphiti islands. There was another path you could follow which went a bit further, but it looked like it would be rather dusty because it was being used as the track for the "buggy safari" which seems to be a new attraction on the top of Srđ. We went back the way we had come instead. There was just time for one last look at the view before it was time to get in the cable car back down to Dubrovnik. Once down, we went back to the apartment for a short break and then set off again towards the main bus station. I had booked the bus tickets for tomorrow's journey to Kotor in advance, using the website of Dubrovnik's bus station, and this seemed to have worked well. However, rather than being issued with an e-ticket at the end of the transaction, I was given a bar code which I was then told to take to the bus station and exchange for the actual ticket. Never having used this website before, I wasn't quite sure how this exchange was going to work out, and I thought it would be better to encounter any potential problems this evening rather than 10 minutes before the bus was due to depart tomorrow morning. I had thought the walk to the bus station would be around 30 minutes, but it was was further than I had thought. We did get a nice view though when we arrived at the harbour, even with the cruise ship on the horizon. In the end everything worked like clockwork; I successfully exchanged the bar code for our tickets, and we are all set for our trip to Kotor tomorrow. We've had a great few days in Croatia, so here's hoping that Montenegro will be just as much fun
  13. We woke up early this morning with the aim of getting into Dubrovnik early enough to beat the hordes onto the town walls. We hadn't reckoned though with the fact that because some of the cruise ships were leaving Dubrovnik in the early afternoon, they would be making a correspondingly early start to their excursions. We were at the main Pile Gate into the old town around 9am, but numerous coaches had beaten us to it, and several tour groups were already following their leader towards the walls. The climb up the initial steps looked pretty busy already, so we decided that it might be better to give the walls a miss for today and escape the old town for another, quieter destination. When we had been getting a lift from the owner of our apartment on Thursday evening, he had mentioned that Cavtat (pronounced "tsavtat") was a nice place for an excursion. I'd never been there before, although I was aware that it was a small seaside town not far from Dubrovnik airport. You can get to Cavtat on a public bus which departs from somewhere in the vicinity of the main Dubrovnik port, but we decided to go for the more exciting option of taking a boat. When we were queuing up for the boat to Lokrum yesterday, we noticed that there were also smaller - and less busy - boats departing for Cavtat. When we arrived this morning there were a row of competing vendors selling Cavtat tickets at the entrance to the old town harbour. I opted for one which looked like it had a fairly frequent timetable, and we were able to buy return tickets for 100 kuna each. The guy who was selling the tickets gave us a timetable which helpfully had the names of the boats which belonged to this particularly company written on it for future reference. The next boat was at 09.45, so we had a bit of time to take a stroll around the harbour while we waited. We walked right to the end of the harbour where there is a small pier jutting out into the sea. From here we had a good view out towards Lokrum. There was a bench right at the very end of the pier... ...where we were able to sit and admire this view. After a while we headed back to the harbour to wait for our boat to arrive. There were quite a few different boats coming and going so it took a while before we saw one of the boats named on our timetable approach. Our first thoughts were that it seemed a little small, but the good news was that there weren't many other people. Soon we were off, pulling away from the old town. We sailed past Lokrum... ...and out into the open sea. The journey seemed to take somewhere between half an hour and 40 minutes on the way there, and we had some beautiful views as we made our way down the Croatian coast towards Cavtat. We passed some unusual-looking islands, which seemed to be smaller and rockier versions of Lokrum. Eventually we arrived in Cavtat, which seemed to be a pleasant seaside town, complete with a promenade lined with palm trees and cafes. We tried going inside the town's church, but didn't stay for long because they seemed to be preparing for some sort of ceremony; we couldn't work out whether or not it was going to be a wedding. The town is also home to a monastery. We went inside the church here and found it had a rather disturbing pulpit, with a random hand clutching a cross protruding from the side of the railing. A path lead past the monastery and around onto the wooded headline which Cavtat is situated next to. As we started to walk along this path, we had some views back towards the town. The path was very shady and pleasant, and we had some great views of the sea as well. It was really cool to see the way cactuses were just growing in the wild by the edge of the water. After we'd been walking around the coast for a while, we realised that we had a view back towards Lokrum and Dubrovnik. It was so far away that zooming in with the camera didn't massively help, but it looked a bit clearer in real life. Lokrum is the green strip of an island towards the centre of the photo, and the walled city of Dubrovnik is the brown splodge to the right of it. We thought we'd walked a really long way and would soon have to turn back and head back to Cavtat. We rounded a corner though and found ourselves in a car park, which initially didn't look very promising, but once we had walked through it we found ourselves in almost the same spot where we had started our walk earlier in the morning. Without realising, we had managed to do a circular walk, along one side of the headland and then back round the other to the town. It was about midday by this point and before we investigated options for lunch, we decided that it would be best to explore what is (apparently!) Cavtat's main attraction; the Račić family mausoleum. This was sign-posted from the main town, along a path which initially went a bit uphill and then degenerated into a succession of staircases up the side of a hill. It was quite tiring, but once you got most of the way up, you did have a nice view back towards the town. It costs 20 kuna to go into the mausoleum itself, which is a strange white building right at the top of the hill. We decided to give it a miss. The mausoleum is situated in the middle of a graveyard, and it is true that there were some pretty spectacular views from there of the coast. It felt a bit strange taking pictures from a graveyard though, even though it was a very attractive one. We managed to take a different path down which avoided most of the steps, and found ourselves back at a point partway along the wooded headland. There was a really nice restaurant there where we were able to sit outside and have lunch, although quite a strong wind seemed to be blowing in our direction from out at sea, so by the end of the meal we were all probably looking a bit windswept. Disaster almost struck when Dad put our 300 kuna inside the wallet with the bill to hand back over to the waiter, and somehow the wind was so strong that it blew the wallet back open and our kuna went flying towards a neighbouring table. Luckily it didn't blow them too far and we were able to retrieve them! We walked back to the centre of town, had a post-lunch ice-cream on a very sunny bench, and then started to follow a path which led around the other headland of the bay. From this path we had a view towards the mausoleum that we had climbed to earlier (it's the white blob you can make out at the top of the hill!). The views of Cavtat were particularly beautiful from here. Unfortunately, after a while this path turned into a bit of a dead end, with the only way to progress further being to climb another rather steep looking set of stairs. It was time to retrace our steps and head back to town. The timetable we'd been given said that there was one boat back to Dubrovnik from Cavtat at 15.00 and another at 16.00. We were just a couple of minutes too late to get on the 15.00 boat, although as we saw it pull away it looked far too busy for us to cram onto anyway. I assumed we would have to wait unil 16.00, but as we were strolling along the waterfront we saw another boat which was going to Cavtat at 15.30. The name matched one of those in the list we'd been given, so I figured it was just an extra service they were putting on at a busy time. We went for a quick drink at a nearby cafe, returning with plenty of time to catch the boat. This one turned out to be nowhere near as busy as the preceding one, which was good news. We sat down and made ourselves comfortable as the boat pulled off. We enjoyed the journey for a few minutes, and then we realised that the boat didn't seem to be going in the same direction that we had come from this morning. First of all the boat pulled into a small settlement on the edge of a bay opposite Cavtat, where it picked up a couple of passengers, and then it preceded in the correct general direction of Dubrovnik, but very close to the coast. We couldn't work out whether this was because it was a slow boat which was scheduled to stop in lots of places - hence not being on the official timetable we'd been given - or whether it was because the sea was actually getting quite choppy and it might be calmer nearer the shore. It didn't stop anywhere else in the end, perhaps partly because the coast is so rocky that there wasn't really anywhere else you could stop even if you had wanted to. But it did take a much slower route, with the final journey time to Dubrovnik being nearer an hour. We really enjoyed it and had some fascinating views of the coast before we found ourselves back in Dubrovnik once more. Evening was starting to fall as we made our way back towards the apartment, where we cooled down for a bit before going out for an evening meal. At the end of a tiring day there was just one more obstacle to negotiate; the steps down to our "ground-floor" apartment
  14. Tim and I decided to take a different approach with our first holiday this year, so while he is off on holiday in Fuerteventura with his extended family, I have come to Croatia with my parents We flew to Dubrovnik from Birmingham yesterday afternoon with Monarch, in what was possibly the aircraft with the world's least leg room. Apart from the slightly cramped conditions it was a nice flight, although the weather was a bit hazy, so we didn't have as clear a view of the Croatian coast as we might otherwise have done. The sun was just setting as we landed in Dubrovnik and were picked up by the owner of the apartment we had booked to stay in. He drove us the 20km or so from the airport to the suburb of Lapad where we were staying, and we got our first (admittedly slightly dark) glimpses of the sea and the old town through the car windows. It was a bit strange arriving at the apartment in complete darkness - especially because there was a rather vigorous chorus of insects outside - but when we woke up this morning we were able to see that it is in a really pretty location. After an excursion to the nearby supermarket, we sat outside and had breakfast on our terrace, which is beneath an enormous fig tree. While we ate we were entertained by the antics of some of the local cats and kittens. We knew that today was going to be a busy day for cruise ship tourists in Dubrovnik, with over 7,000 people due to visit the town. We had therefore decided last night that the best strategy might be to ignore the old town and walls for today, and escape to the island of Lokrum instead. The apartment is about half an hour's walk outside the old town of Dubrovnik, so we set off in that direction, heading for the old town port where we would be able to catch the boat. On the way we passed this beautiful viewpoint outside the town. This was our first proper look at the sea It was fairly busy once we arrived at the town, in particular outside the Pile Gate, but once we started walking down the Stradun it wasn't actually too bad. We made it to the harbour and saw that there was a boat to Lokrum getting ready to set off, but I was surprised to see that there was quite a significant queue. When I went to Lokrum last autumn, I don't remember having to queue at all and I think we were more or less able to have our choice of seats on the boat. I'm not sure whether it was busier today because we were a bit later or because some of the cruise ship companies might have added Lokrum to their list of excursions, but the queue to get tickets was an absolute rabble. We got stuck behind a large bunch of Polish people who had bought some sort of group ticket and were trying to explain in a mixture of Polish and broken English that they wanted us to give them €14 to be included on it. While we were trying to disentangle ourselves from that confusion, several other people started to push in front of us in the queue, which was a bit frustrating. But we made it on to the boat in the end and actually got quite a good position to stand, where we were able to enjoy views firstly of the harbour... ...and then out to sea. The boat officially runs from Dubrovnik to Lokrum every 30 minutes, although it felt today more like it was running every time they got to the point that they couldn't cram another single person onto it. Lokrum isn't very far away from Dubrovnik, so it wasn't long before we had our first view of the island. There was quite a crush of people when we disembarked from the boat, but we soon lost them the minute we struck out on one of the smaller paths away from the harbour. We started following signs towards the slightly strangely named "Pigeon's cave". When we got there we found we could only just about see the cave... ...and there were no pigeons in sight! But there was a beautiful rocky viewpoint. From there we followed signs to 'Mrtvo More' (The Dead Sea), which is a small salt-water lake. Last time I came here it was almost empty, but today it was a popular location for swimmers and sunbathers. We were quite hungry by this point so started walking back in the direction of the ruined monastery towards the centre of the island, where I thought there might be some restaurants. On the way we passed a family peacocks, complete with very fluffy babies. I knew there were lots of peacocks on Lokrum, but I'd never seen one that was as adventurous as this one before; somehow it had hopped it's way up into this tree! We found a little snackbar where we were able to sit in the shade and relax with a drink and a sandwich. Then we set off again, this time along the so-called "paradise path", which is actually an extremely steep path which leads up to the highest point on the island. As one of the tourists who had stopped for breath alongside us commented at one point, perhaps they call it the paradise path because when you get to the top you want to die There's a fortress at the top of the path, which isn't particularly worth seeing, but what really is worth coming up for is the views on the way down. First of all we had some beautiful views of the sea... ...and then as we kept walking we had some amazing views back towards Dubrovnik itself. Unfortunately it is quite a long way away in camera terms, and so if I tried to zoom too much the pictures became quite blurred. It was fantastic to be able to see the entire perimeter of the walls in one shot though Once we had got the (rather rocky) downhill path out of the way, we continued on a flat and shady path around the edge of the island. We had some views of parts of the Dubrovnik walls from here too... ... as well as wider views of Mount Srđ and the Dubrovnik coastline. This path took us back to the harbour where we had originally started. We stopped for a slightly disappointing iced coffee at the snackbar (too much cream, not enough coffee!) before catching the boat back towards Dubrovnik again. Once again we managed to get a good standing position and were rewarded with some excellent views of the town's fortifications as we got closer. Mom and I decided to try and take a selife... possibly we need a bit more practice The closer to Dubrovnik we got, the better the views became... ...until finally we were back in the old town harbour once more. We walked back to our apartment to cool off for a while, before heading out to a nearby restaurant which served nice Italian food. I thought I was doing well asking in Croatian for my pizza to come without olives... until I realised that the "with olives" option only resulted in everyone else's pizza coming with one single solitary olive! It was a lovely meal though, and a good end to what has been a fun but tiring first day in Croatia
  15. Today we were leaving Croatia behind and travelling onwards to our next destination: Kotor, in Montenegro. The bus to Kotor wasn't until 10am, but I set the alarm for 7am so that we had plenty of time to pack. In particular, we needed to experiment with ways to fit the 20+ Croatian books which we purchased in Dubrovnik into our luggage! Happily we did manage this in the end, though Tim ended up with a very heavy backpack and even heavier suitcase. We checked out just before 9 and walked around the waterfront to Dubrovnik's bus station, which is a fair distance outside the town, past the port. There were two large cruise ships in the port today, with hundreds of people busy unloading into coaches as we walked past. When we eventually arrived at the bus station it appeared quite quiet in comparison! I was a little bit nervous about today's bus journey for several reasons. Firstly because I had decided to book the bus tickets online in advance, using a new website called busticket4.me. This is a revolution in the world of Montenegrin bus tickets which, as the website explains, aims to make it possible for people to get information about bus timetables without actually having to visit bus stations to look at them on the wall!! A limited number of tickets for certain buses are also available for sale online and I had experimented with purchasing ones for this journey, because I knew from previous experiences of trying to travel between Croatia and Montenegro that the limited number of buses can be extremely busy. Now I was starting to have regrets about this though, in case this whole concept of online bus timetables was struggling to catch on and the driver might accuse me of not having a proper ticket when I tried to board the bus with a barcode printed from the Internet. The other thing I was slightly concerned about was that the website had automatically allocated us seats 1 and 2 on the bus. This might not seem like a major problem, but there seems to be some sort of unwritten etiquette of Balkan buses which means that the driver doesn't want anyone to sit in the first few seats. Usually he makes this clear by strewing a random assortment of bags and belongings across seats 1 to 4, moving them only in cases of extreme need. So I was also worried that we'd struggle to sit in our allocated seats, then struggle to find any other available seat to sit in, because the Dubrovnik to Montenegro buses are mostly used by tourists and tourists, unlike locals, tend to want to sit in the seats assigned to them on their tickets. In the end it turned out that I needn't have worried and everything worked out fine The bus driver looked like he was at the end of his tether dealing with people speaking to him in English (our personal favourite was a girl who addressed him with "Is this the right bus?"), so I think we instantly became his favourite passengers when we greeted him with "Dobar dan!" and paid for our luggage in Croatian. He didn't bat an eyelid at the online bus ticket (phew!) and although he did have a strategically positioned sports bag on seats 1 and 2, he didn't say anything when we moved it to sit down. We were lucky that the system hadn't allocated us seats 3 and 4, as he had laid out a full suit of clothes across those seats!! The benefit of being at the front of the bus was that we had a fantastic view of the countryside throughout the journey. The bus started off by travelling uphill into the mountains above Dubrovnik, so that we had a bird's eye view of the old town and the island of Lokrum as we drove past. Sadly we weren't on the right side of the bus to get photos of that, but we did get some beautiful views through the windscreen of the bus as we then made our way south towards the Montenegrin border. The border crossing itself was a bit different to last time we came. When the bus got to the Croatian border, everyone had to get off and individually present their passports to a policeman in a little booth, just like at the airport. Once everyone's passport had been checked, the bus drove past the control point and we were all allowed to get back on. The bus continued down the road for another mile or so until it came to the Montenegrin border checkpoint. Here the bus driver had to collect up all our passports and take them to the border guard for him to check and stamp. The driver managed to do it very efficiently though, managing to the hand all the passports back in the same order in which he'd collected them, and as there were no queues at the border today, we probably only had to wait for 10 minutes or so before we were reunited with our passports Now that we were in Montenegro, the landscape quickly became more mountainous. We had a quick stop in the town of Herceg Novi not far from the border, memorable for three tourists who incurred the wrath of the driver by managing to ignore his multiple announcements to the effect that we were now in Herceg Novi (which is where they wanted to get off) so that he had to get up and hunt them down. After Herceg Novi, the bus began to follow the coastal road around the bay of Kotor. The bus drives really close to the edge of the water in places and there are a lot of twists and turns. We finally arrived in Kotor around 12.30, which was around half an hour behind schedule, but that just meant we didn't have quite as much time to kill before we could check in to our apartment. We passed the time with a drink in the Kotor bus station cafe, an amazing establishment where the first five or so items on the menu are different types of rakija and pretty much everything you order turns out to cost 1 euro. I had an Americano for 1 euro and Tim had a beer, also for 1 euro It wasn't too far to walk from the bus station to the apartment, although I had forgotten that the last part of the journey involves negotiating some staircases; not ideal with our suitcases now laden down with books! We got there in the end though and met the very friendly landlady who we remembered from our previous visit here. Her English is quite limited so she was very excited that we could communicate in Croatian and chattered incessantly as she showed us around the apartment and brought us some drinks to cool off on the terrace. She told me about how she has been trying to learn English to communicate with her visitors and had a hilarious story about how she'd now got a cleaning lady to help her with the apartments and that she'd been saying to guests for several months that her "wife" did the cleaning ("wife" and "woman" are the same word in Croatian/Serbian) until someone had eventually corrected her and now she realised all her guests must have thought she was gay We relaxed on our terrace for a while, enjoying the view of the sea and the mountains. Then we walked into the old town to get some food and it was really beautiful, but both of us managed to forget to brng our cameras with us, so photos will have to wait until tomorrow! I had a slightly odd Hawaiian pizza (the topping was olives and pineapple rather than ham and pineapple) and Tim had a burger, at a restaurant in one of the main squares and it cost us less than €20 including the drinks. I don't know what we are going to do with the €50 notes that I only realised today the Post Office has lumbered us with! We went back and read on the terrace for a while, then set out for another stroll in the evening. It was lovely wandering around the little streets of the old town in the twilight. But what we had come out to see was the view of the town fortifications lit up at night. Beautiful, but they look so high! We'll have to see what the weather is like in the morning before we decide whether we have got the energy to climb them or not!
  16. The weather forecast was mixed again today so we decided not to stray too far away from Dubrovnik. We didn't have quite such an early start as yesterday, but we were out of the apartment by 9am and walking towards the old town again. A few spots of rain started to fall as we initially left Lapad, but the sky seemed to brighten up a bit the closer we got to the main town. Our plan was to catch the 10am boat across to the island of Lokrum. Lokrum is the green island we had the great views of yesterday while walking around the city walls and the whole island is a sort of nature park. There is a boat to the island every half an hour from the old town port in Dubrovnik, and the journey only takes around 15 minutes. You can buy tickets for the boat from a little stall in the harbour and it costs 100 kuna (about £11 each), which includes the return boat trip and a fee for entry to the nature reserve. The boat can hold a couple of hundred people, so initially when it lands on the island there is a little bit of a crowd, which takes a while to disperse. Overall the island is more than big enough to swallow all the visitors up, so for the majority of the time we were there we didn't really encounter any other people at all. When we first got off the boat though we were keen to get away from everyone else as soon as possible, so we started walking rather quickly in a direction which didn't seem to be terribly popular. After we'd been going for about 10 minutes, we realised why when the path turned out to be a dead end which ended in this sign. Oops! We hastily turned around and made our way back to the port to try again. You can buy a map of Lokrum but you don't really need to because there are helpful little signs pointing you in the direction of all the key sights. The first sign we followed was to the slightly strangely named "Pigeon's cave". We have absolutely no idea what it had to do with pigeons, but the path lead us to a lovely viewpoint. We could just about see the beginning of a cave in the rocks. We had been to Lokrum before in 2013, but one of the things I seemed to have blanked from my memory from that visit was quite how rocky some of the paths are. Next time I think I will come in my walking shoes! From the cave the path led us to the so-called "Mrtvo More" (Dead Sea), which is actually a small salt-water lake. The island of Lokrum used to be a holiday home for the Habsburg Archduke Maximillian and he introduced families of peacocks, apparently from the Canary Islands. They seemed to take to living on Lokrum very successfully and their descendants are still roaming the island today. It's difficult to go anywhere on the island without running into a family of peacocks. Some of them had very small chicks indeed. Something I don't remember from last time is that the island also seems to be home to a population of extremely tame rabbits, who seem to be completely unbothered by tourists walking past them. Later in the day we even came across this lady who had managed to get a rabbit to eat out of her hand! The Benedictines had a monastery on the island from the eleventh century until the early nineteenth century and you can still see the remnants of it today. There was some renovation work being done at the moment though so we weren't able to walk about as much as previously. Instead we set off into the forests which cover most of the island. There were signs everywhere about being vigilent against forest fires, and smoking is strictly forbidden everywhere on the island. We soon found ourselves on the path known as "Rajski put" (Paradise path) which was part of the landscaping done for Maximillian. It's quite steep but once you get to the top of it there are some beautiful views. By this stage we were at the highest point of the island, which is where the Royal Fort is situated. As we followed the path down from here we had some spectacular views back towards the walled town of Dubrovnik. The path was still quite steep and rocky though, so I had to spend as much time looking at my feet as at the view! Luckily we sound found ourselves on a much flatter path where the views were just as good It was pretty cool that yesterday we had been walking around the city walls in Dubrovnik looking at views of Lokrum, and today we were walking around Lokrum looking at views of Dubrovnik Another interesting feature of the island is its botanical garden, which features some unusual species of tropical plants, originally imported from Australia and South America. I particularly liked the cactuses. Especially these ones which appeared to be flowering. By the time we had finished walking around the island it was early afternoon and we were starting to get pretty hungry. There is a sort of restaurant on the island, but it's quite expensive - I guess because it has a captive audience - and last time we tried to eat there we kept getting pestered by hungry peacocks the whole time! We decided it was time to head back to Dubrovnik, so made our way back to the harbour. We had just missed a boat (they seemed to be running with a blatant disregard for the published timetable!!) so we had to sit and wait for a while. It was a very pretty location in which to wait though Luckily another boat soon arrived - also not in line with the timetable - and so we were soon on our way. We managed to get seats outside near the front of the boat and so had some fantastic views of the approach to Dubrovnik. It may be worth going to Lokrum just to be able to see Dubrovnik from the sea. In about 15 minutes we were back, then had to battle our way through a very busy old town to get back to the road we needed to follow to Lapad. Within an hour or so we were back at the same restaurant where we'd eaten yesterday, where we managed to have a lovely late lunch/early dinner, this time for only about £17 We've had a brilliant first week of our holiday in Croatia. Tomorrow we are off to Kotor in Montenegro for the second part of our trip. Assuming that everything works okay with the bus!
  17. The weather forecast once again looked a bit mixed for today when we checked it yesterday evening, but we decided to set our alarms for an early start anyway and see what the weather looked like when we woke up. For once we were in luck; when we got out of bed around 7am there was a beautiful bright blue sky, which was significantly better than what had been forecast. We had breakfast as quickly as we could and before 8am we were on our way into the centre of Dubrovnik. It's about a 40 minute walk from where we're staying to the old town. There is a bus which runs from the street outside the apartment to the Pile Gate at the entrance to the old town, but we've never caught it because it always looks ridiculously jam-packed with tourists. The walk is a bit uphill at first, but it's worth the climb because after 20 minutes or so you reach the top of the hill and are rewarded with a viewpoint like this. The reason we were setting out so early is that we wanted to beat the worst of the crowds to Dubrovnik's city walls. As we left the apartment we could see that there was only one cruise ship in the port this morning, which isn't too bad by Dubrovnik standards, but it can still get very busy during the day. The walls open at 8am at this time of year and the cruise ship visitors don't tend to arrive until about 09.30, so our plan was to see as much as possible before they descended. Walking round the walls is also quite tiring because there are a few steep staircases and very little shade, so going early in the day also means you can get round before the sun gets unbearably hot. It was about 08.30 in the end before we arrived at the Pile Gate. It costs 120 kuna (about £13.50) to go around the walls, which is quite expensive but definitely worth it. For the avoidance of doubt, several signs in the ticket office proclaim that you have to pay for your tickets in Croatian kuna There's a strict one-way system around the walls, which helps ensure that there isn't complete chaos. After you climb up the staircase to begin walking around, there is a great view behind you to Srđ, the mountain which towers above Dubrovnik. The next thing you see as you go around the first corner is the impressive Fort Lovrijenac. From here the walls lead uphill, alongside the sea... ...and you can start to get some views of the town and the rest of the walls. Once you get to the next corner, the island of Lokrum appears on the horizon... ...and there are some beautiful views of the rest of the Croatian coast, towards Montenegro. The cliffs which the walls are built on are very, very steep! One of the unusual things about walking round the walls is that you realise people's houses are built right up against them. As we made our way round we passed private gardens, school playgrounds and even a basketball pitch. It must be a bit strange to have a constant procession of people walking past your windows though. We soon came to the old town harbour, which is really pretty. These days only small boats leave from here, with the main cruise ships and ferries leaving from the larger port, not far from where we're staying in Lapad. From this part of the walls you start to get a good view over the rest of the town. On the final stretch there are beautiful views of all the red roofs and domes of various churches. I particularly liked this view, where you can see the town and the harbour and Lokrum... ...as well as this one where you can see Fort Lovrijenac again. Finally you come to the Minčeta Tower, which is the highest point that you can climb to on the walls. This bit doesn't have a one-way system (there's just one staircase for up and down) so it's definitely good to be here when it's not too busy. The views from here are incredible... ...in every direction... ...though it was a bit windy up there, as you can see from my hair!! Finally it was time to start climbing down. By this point we could see that the first part of the walls was already very busy, quickly becoming a long procession of people as the first of the cruise ship tours started off. It had taken us just over an hour to walk around, so although we felt like it we'd had a day's activity by now, we still had plenty of time to explore the rest of Dubrovnik The city is beautiful inside the walls as well... ...and it still wasn't too busy at this point in the day. We walked around some of the main streets for a while and then set off in search of bookshops. I was quite lucky with last year's holiday that we went to both Zagreb and Rijeka, two large cities which are home to some of Croatia's biggest bookshops. On this holiday we've mostly been in smaller places, so Dubrovnik seemed like the best bet for stocking up on Croatian reading material this year. On the main street we found a branch of Algoritam, which is a well-known publisher of books in Croatian, so assumed that would be te best place to try. When we got inside I was quite disappointed though; about a third of the bookshop seemed to be given over to selling books in English, presumably aimed at tourists. About another third seemed to be mainly children's books, which left a comparatively small space for actual novels. Even worse, once I started going through them it became clear that the vast majority were just translations of English or American fiction. So if you wanted a complete hardbound set of the 'Fifty Shades of Grey' trilogy in Croatian, you were in luck, but if you actually wanted to read something by a Croatian author then your choices were few and far between! We spent quite a while in there going through the shelves in detail and eventually did manage to find some things which looked interesting, but it was a bit of a struggle. We emerged into the sunshine once more and were just strolling down the main street, when Tim noticed another bookshop called Algebra. We went into this one and it was like stepping into a different universe! The girl behind the counter was really helpful, and when I asked her if she could recommend me some books by Croatian authors, she started running all over the bookshop making piles of interesting things. Unlike the first bookshop, this one was full of Croatian literature and so I was spoilt for choice. We ultimately came away with such a massive pile of stuff (paid for by Tim - to be my birthday and Christmas presents) that I'm now a bit concerned about how we're going to fit it all in our suitcases to get home Once our shopping was complete, we went for a stroll round to the old harbour to enjoy the views there. It's a comparatively peaceful part of Dubrovnik, so we were able to sit on a shady bench for a while and watch the boats coming and going. Then it was time to start the walk back to Lapad, and after leaving the books at the apartment, to find somewhere to get a late lunch. Food can be quite expensive in Dubrovnik compared to the rest of Croatia, but we found an amazingly cheap place just off the main restaurant street, where I had a beautiful bolognese pizza, Tim had some Mexican food (it was a rather wide-ranging menu which covered everything from burritos to pizza/pasta to ćevapčići!), we had some very nice wine and somehow the bill still came to less than 200 kuna We've had a brilliant day today, and while the weather forecast is suggesting rain for tomorrow again, I'm hoping they might be as wrong about that as they were about the rain today!
  18. When we woke up this morning it was still quite blustery. The good news is that it wasn't raining, so we were just about able to eat breakfast on the balcony, but the wind was pretty strong and the sea looked rather choppy. We were due to travel from Korčula to Dubrovnik today on another catamaran, departing just after 10am. We had seen that there had been a long queue for the catamaran yesterday when we were looking for the boat to Orebić, so we had decided to make sure we were waiting at the harbour at least half an hour in advance. It was a good job that we did, because when we got to the harbour just after 09.30, we found there was already quite a large group of people queuing. The queue was a bit chaotic and got progressively longer and longer until it was spreading out of the harbour area and round the corner. I was starting to wonder whether we were all going to fit on, because the boat was starting in Split originally, so would already have people on it by the time it got to Korčula. In the end it didn't arrive until about 10.15 and although it looked like quite a large catamaran, we could see through the windows that it did indeed already look pretty full. Ultimately we did manage to find two seats (though not together) but we were quite lucky because some people had to stand or sit on the floor for the duration of the trip. The journey to Dubrovnik took about two hours, with a stop halfway on the island of Mljet, which looked very pretty. Fortunately the sea had calmed down a bit from when we first woke up so it didn't feel particularly choppy, but as we got closer to Dubrovnik we could see that it had started to rain again. The boat was due to get to Dubrovnik at midday, but it was around 12.30 by the time it had arrived and everyone had managed to retrieve their luggage. That was fine for us, because we couldn't check in to our next apartment until 14.00, so it just reduced the amount of time we had to kill with our baggage We had booked to stay at some nice apartments where we've stayed twice before, in the Lapad suburb of Dubrovnik. Lapad is located about 3km outside Dubrovnik's old town, about a kilometre or so from the port and bus station. There are quite a few restaurants scattered over the course of that kilometre, and we managed to find one that didn't look too busy. It was run by a slightly scary lady who seemed to spend a lot of time running around shouting orders at other people, but she let us leave our suitcases behind the door which was useful, and we both ordered spaghetti bolognese. We were slightly confused a few minutes later when the scary lady presented us with two empty plates, but we had also been given a basket of bread, so I thought perhaps it was to stop us getting crumbs everywhere! A bit later all became clear, when the waitress brought out spaghetti bolognese for two in a large casserole dish, with a spoon for us to serve ourselves. Spaghetti bolognese is probably the least easy meal in the world to serve yourself to without making a mess, but it was a really tasty one and there was lots of parmasan cheese The restaurant had become busier while we were eating, so once we finished we were hoping to catch the eye of the waitress to be able to pay. We had been sitting for a while in vain when the scary lady shouted an order at the waitress and the next thing we knew we were being presented with two glasses of some sort of spirits. Tim's favourite The first glass was a clear liquid which smelled (and tasted) highly alcoholic; definitely rakija! The second glass was more the colour of red wine and we have absolutely no idea what it was. Tim thought it tasted like alcoholic cough medicine and I thought it tasted more like alcoholic turkish delight. It was quite sweet anyway, and definitely less alcoholic than the rakija. We didn't see anyone else getting offered similar drinks while we were there, so we can only assume that the scary lady appreciated our efforts to speak Croatian! By the time we emerged from the restaurant the rain had eased off and so we were able to make our way to the apartment without any difficulties. We settled in for a while, before setting out for a walk around the suburb. From where we are staying it's about a 10 minute walk to a large pedestrianised area with lots of restaurants and hotels. At the end of the pedestrianised street, there's a beach and some lovely views out to sea. We saw a signpost for a footpath and decided to follow it around the coast for a while. As we walked, we could see a few tiny bits of blue sky trying to break through the clouds in the distance. The whole coastline was very rocky and we had views of some interesting rock formations out at sea. Eventually the footpath came to an end near some large hotels, so we turned around and retraced our steps back to Lapad. There's a large supermarket nearby, so we popped in for some supplies before heading back to the apartment for the evening. There were several bits of blue sky visible at this point, so let's hope that means there's going to be an improvement in the weather again tomorrow!
  19. The good news is that when we woke up this morning the weather was a million times better than last night. The sun was shining, there was a clear blue sky and you wouldn't know that there had ever been a storm at all. We sat out on the balcony to have breakfast; a beautiful meat burek which Tim had got fresh from the nearby supermarket. We wanted to make the most of the good weather, so straight after breakfast we set off for a walk around town. Everywhere looked gorgeous with a blue sky Our plan for today was to catch a boat across to the town of Orebić, which is on the peninsular of the mainland just across from Korčula. We could see the town in the distance as we walked around the outskirts of Korčula. From what I'd seen on the Internet, I understood there was a passenger ferry which goes once an hour from Korčula's harbour to the centre of Orebić, a journey which only takes about 15 minutes. The next boat was due to depart at 11am, so we had a bit more time to spare walking around Korčula. When we walked round the corner of the harbour about 10.40 though, we saw that a small boat had pulled up with an "Orebić" sign on its side. When I say small, I guess it would have seated about 12 people comfortably, plus the two guys who appeared to be driving it. I was a bit surprised because the picture that I'd seen online suggested something which looked more like a small passenger ferry, but the sign definitely said "Orebić", so we climbed aboard. I became further confused, however, when the boat set off towards Orebić almost immediately, seemingly with a complete disregard for the timetable which said it was supposed to depart at 11. How strange. The price did, at least, agree to what I had seen on the Internet (15 kunas - not much more than £1.50 each) which seemed like a bargain. We had some stunning views of Korčula as the boat pulled away from the harbour. We hadn't really been able to see the approach to the town from the catamaran on Sunday, so it was great to be able to see the fortifications from the sea. As the boat pulled further away it was also clear just how forested the island of Korčula is. It didn't seem long before we were arriving at Orebić on the other side of the coast. The town is built right up beside the mountains that we had seen from Korčula. There are views to other mountains further down the coast too... ...as well as back towards Korčula of course. We followed a pretty coastal path which led along the sea front for a while... ...then went to explore the town a bit. It's only quite small, so that didn't take long! Another coastal path led in the opposite direction. From here we could see what appeared to be a church or monastery on a small island in the middle of the sea. The path led towards Orebić's beach, which is supposed to be very sandy by Croatian standards. If you look closely though you can see it's not really sand, but gravel. Still, definitely less rocky than most Croatian beaches! It was a really beautiful location. When the path came to an end, we turned around and walked back into the town. We found the local church, which looked very pretty. The effects of our burek had worn off by this point so we decided to search for some lunch. A lot of the restaurants along the sea front were serving fish, unfortunately, but we found one where they let us order the children's menu, which was chicken schnitzel and chips It's probably the most scenic chicken schnitzel and chips that we've ever had Once we'd finished eating and admiring the views, it was time to track down the boat back across to the island. Imagine my surprise when we got to the harbour and found a rather large boat - a ferry that looked like it could seat in excess of 100 people - just about to depart for Korčula. This looked suspiciously like the boat whose picture I had seen on the Internet - the official boat connection between Korčula and Orebić - and it appeared to be running to the published timetable too. It seems like the boat we caught in the morning was some sort of unofficial taxi boat running in competition to the proper ferry. We had great views though, and they only charged the same price as the official ferry. As the afternoon progressed, the skies became cloudier until this evening another big storm started up. The weather forecast doesn't look great for the next seven days, but we've definitely had a fantastic time today
  20. The weather forecast had said it was going to rain all day today, so I wasn't sure what to expect when I woke up this morning. Tim had already woken up at the crack of dawn and been able to sit on the balcony and watch the sunrise. The photos look beautiful but there wasn't much chance of me being up at that time of the morning when on holiday At that point in the morning it seems like it was still quite dry, but by the time I had got up, had breakfast and was ready for a walk around the town, it was already starting to look quite grey. Sure enough, it wasn't long before the first drops of rain started to fall. Luckily things started to clear up a bit again mid-morning, so around noon we were able to head out and explore a bit more again. We went for a stroll round the coast, in the opposite direction to the old town. Once we got a little way beyond the town, we saw a sign for the town park. We followed a little path up the hillside and into quite a dense forest. Korčula is quite a forested island, and I think this particular bit of forest must have been designated a park just because it had a few paths through it Every so often we came to a clearing where we could get a brief view of the coast through the trees. At one point we came across a little grotto on the hillside... ..and further on we came across a memorial commerorating soldiers from the island who had died in the first world war. After a while we emerged from the woods to walk alongside the sea again. There was a pretty little inlet of water which we were able to walk around. At some points the weather almost seemed sunny We couldn't see back as far as the old town from here, but there were still some beautiful views of the sea... ...and back towards the mainland as well. We didn't want to get caught out in a storm, so eventually we decided we'd better turn around and head back towards the town. We just about made it there by around 3pm when the heavens opened! Luckily there is a pizzeria next door to our apartment, so we went in there for a meal and only had a short dash back home once we'd finished. The rain has continued throughout the rest of the afternoon, turning into a proper storm with lightning and a very strong wind, so we definitely chose the optimum time for a walk
  21. We had an early start this morning, albeit nowhere near as early as yesterday morning, with the alarm going off at 07.30. We had tickets booked on the 09.15 boat from Split to the island of Korčula and as this was the first time we had caught a passenger ferry in Croatia, I had no idea how far in advance of the boat departing we needed to be at the terminal. Luckily our apartment in Split was very conveniently placed for the harbour and so once we had packed and had breakfast, we only had a 10 minute walk down to the seafront. The port in Split is fairly enormous though and houses everything from tiny fishing boats to expensive private yachts, from gigantic cruise ships cruising the Adriatic to car ferries crossing the sea to Italy. We were looking for a fairly modestly sized catamaran run by Croatia's state shipping company, Jadrolinija, and while you can easily buy boat tickets online via the Jadrolinija website, once you've bought them you don't get any kind of instructions about where you might find your boat. As we dodged in and out of groups of cruise ship passengers being herded towards the sights of Split, I was glad that we had set out with plenty of time to spare! We eventually found the information board which announced that the boat to Korčula was due to depart from bay 11, and with the help of a map of the port on the wall we made our way to the end of a long quay where a small queue of people was forming. The journey from Split to Korčula takes about 2 hours 45 minutes and cost 140 kuna (about £15) each. I wasn't quite sure what to expect from the catamaran as I knew you can't go outside on them and was worried that the inside might be a bit dark and cramped, having seen it described online as being like the inside of an aeroplane. Whoever came up with that description obviously wasn't accustomed to flying Ryanair, because when we got on board we were pleasantly surprised to find a bright spacious room set up with rows of very comfy seats which had a lot of legroom Turning up early had definitely been helpful as we even managed to get seats by a window, although unfortunately it wasn't possible to take any photos because the window itself was covered in a thin black mesh, through which it was possible to see out, but which would have been rather a barrier to a camera. It was a really lovely journey though as we left Split behind us and travelled first to the island of Hvar, where more than half of the boat's passengers got off. It looked really beautiful there, with some sort of fortress set on a hill above the old town. About another hour and a very strong espresso from the boat's cafe later, we finally arrived in Korčula Our first task was to find our apartment. I knew the owner was expecting us because she had phoned me last night to check which boat we were coming on, but I was a bit worried we were going to struggle to find the right building, because the street which was given as the address didn't seem to feature on Google Map's view of Korčula. We knew it wasn't far from the harbour though and the apartment's page on booking.com showed a picture of the seafront with a big red circle around the correct building, so I was hoping we would be able to recognise it from that! Luckily Tim spotted what seemed to be the right building almost straight away, though when we got to it I couldn't see any signs about apartments. I rang the lady I'd spoken to yesterday again, and she assured us me that we were in the right place and that she'd be with us in a few minutes. Sure enough she was, and she and her husband showed us through a side entrance, up some stairs and into an extremely nice apartment We've got a kitchen/dining/living room with strong air-con and a nice spacious bedroom. But the best thing is probably the view from the balcony Once we had settled in and enjoyed the balcony for a bit, we went out to explore the town. We were staying in Korčula town, which is the largest town on the island of the same name. We started with a stroll along the coast... ...and soon had an amazing view back towards the fortified old town. Part of the reason I wanted to come to this island was that I had seen some beautiful shots of it on a Croatian soap opera that I'm watching, so I was pleased to see that it looked just as beautiful in real life We decided to stop and have some lunch before exploring the old town in more detail. We found a nice place where we had ćevapčići (grilled sausage-like things made of minced meat, which are popular all over the Balkans) and chips in the sun A little later we climbed up through the gate and into the centre of town. The old town is full of narrow little streets. The cathedral of St Mark dominates the main square... ...though we did find some smaller churches as well Around the edges of the town were remnants of what must once have been very impressive town walls... ...and you could imagine that any potential invaders approaching from the sea would have been put off by towers like this. In the evening we strolled along the coast once more... ...to enjoy another view of the town from a distance. As we walked along the coastal road we passed a pretty monastery too. The hills in the background are actually on the Croatian mainland; although it took us about three hours to get here on a boat from Split, there is a long thin peninsula called Pelješac which is only a few kilometres across the sea from Korčula. The weather isn't forecast to be perfect for the next few days so we don't have any firm plans, but we have definitely had a wonderful time walking around Korčula today
  22. I think we may have broken a record on this holiday for the earliest getting up ever when our alarms went off at 01.30 this morning. We had a 06.25 flight from Stansted to Split, which I can only assume seemed like a good idea at the point at which I booked it! It certainly didn't feel like a good idea when we had to drag ourselves out of bed after only a few hours' sleep and begin the long trek down to Stansted. Stansted did, however, seem like a dream airport after flying from Luton last week (we managed to get breakfast - yay!) and we were also surprised by how good flying with Easyjet was. Everything from the check-in to boarding seemed to run just a little bit more smoothly than on Ryanair; we didn't get penned into any confined spaces, there were no aggressive fights in the queue from people refusing to accept that their hand baggage had to be put in the hold, and I even ended up with a window seat Split airport isn't very big but I think it must rank as one of the most impressive airports I've ever landed at. The plane flew from the coast of Italy across the Adriatic and then over numerous Croatian islands as got closer to Split. It's one of those airports where almost right up until the moment you land, you can't actually see anywhere that looks either flat enough or dry enough for a plane to land, as the mountains come almost right down to the sea It looked like a beautiful bright sunny day and as soon as we stepped off the aircraft we were hit by a wave of heat. Wow, it was hot - immediately it felt hotter than it had been even when we were in Spain and France in June! Within less than fifteen minutes we were through the (very casual) passport control, had collected our baggage and were out in the sunshine looking for the airport shuttle bus. Things seemed to have progressed a bit in Split since we last flew here in 2013. At that time the airport shuttle bus only met flights of Croatia Airlines, so if you weren't flying with them, in order to get into the centre of Split you didn't have any option but to pay for a private taxi transfer. Now the airport shuttle appears to meet every flight and it's even possible to buy tickets online, although there isn't anything approaching a timetable on the website; just a message announcing that a bus will depart about 20 minutes after each flight lands. The airport is situated about 25km outside Split, and so I wasn't expecting the bus journey to take very long. In the end it took nearly an hour, because there were some roadworks on the main coastal road. We were probably the only passengers who were happy about this, because we were trying to kill some time until it was possible to check into our apartment. Officially the check-in wasn't supposed to have been until 2pm, but I had contacted the apartment owner a few days ago to see whether we could turn up earlier, and he had agreed we could come at midday. It was about 09.30 when our plane landed and about 10.45 when we finally pulled in the bus station in Split, so there wasn't too much time left to kill. We found a cafe not far from the bus station where we could stop for a drink and look over the walking instructions to the apartment. We were sitting partly in the shade under some sort of parasol but within 10 minutes I started to feel like I was already starting to turn an interesting shade of pink. I also had the realisation that I'd forgotten to pack my hat, which wasn't very clever of me! Some of the reviews on booking.com had indicated that the apartment was difficult to find, but one of the reviewers had recommended turning off up a staircase next to a kebab shop and although that didn't sound terribly inspiring, when we did just that we found ourselves on a pretty little street and next to a big orange sign announcing the name of the apartments we were looking for. We were met by the owner who expressed surprise that I'd emailed him in Croatian and spoke to us in a mixture of English and Croatian as he told us a bit about Split and the apartment. Beautiful as Split is, our first priority was to turn up the air-conditioning and have a nap! It was later in the afternoon by the time we ventured out for a stroll along the Riva (the promenade which runs along the sea front). As always, Split has some very impressive palm trees The further you walk around the sea front, the better the view you have of the city... ...and of the mountains beyond. We enjoyed the view for a while before heading back into the old town. The main streets of Split are often very busy and cluttered up with market stalls selling sunglasses and flip-flops and other seaside accessories. Normally these are an annoyance but today they turned out to be useful because I managed to buy a cheap hat It didn't take long to reach the centre of the old town, where the cathedral of St Domnius towers above everything. There was something going on with Roman re-enactments today, and so in the square outside we found two men dressed as Roman soldiers. We enjoyed wandering round the old streets for a while. The centre of Split is built among the ruins of the Roman emperor Diocletian's palace, and there are interesting buildings at every turn. Every now and again you come to gaps in the town walls, through which you can get a tantalising glimpse down to the sea. Breakfast had been at 5am and we had missed lunch altogether, so by this time we were starting to feel pretty hungry. We decided to try and look for a pizzeria which we had eaten in last time we were in Split. We found it, and then remembered that last time we'd eaten there we'd had a jug of wine that was so horrible we couldn't actually drink it! When we had a proper look at the menu today we figured out why; we must have chosen the very cheapest "stolno vino" (table wine) as opposed to the wine which for only a few kunas more was labelled as "kvalitetno vino" (quality wine!). I decided to go for a glass of the kvalitetno vino today, and it turned out to be much nicer Split is a very convenient place to travel to and it's been fun to visit it today. Tomorrow we are moving on though, via catamaran, to the island of Korčula
  23. It was a nice sunny morning when we woke up in Zagreb today. We didn't have to check out of the hotel until midday, so after breakfast we went out for a final stroll around the city. Just down the road from the main train station are the botanical gardens, which belong to Zagreb university. They're an attractive place to walk around and include a pond which is full of little turtles... ...as well as some pretty flowers and fountains. From the botanical gardens it isn't far to the impressive building of the Croatian national theatre. We had a look in a couple more bookshops, which led us into Preradović square, named after the Croatian poet Petar Preradović. Zagreb's Serbian Orthodox cathedral is situated in the square. As we were walking back towards the hotel to pack up our things, my eye was caught by a plaque on the side of one of the buildings we passed. This building housed the editors of the first Esperanto magazine in Croatia - "Kroata Esperantisto" - which was first produced in 1909. The plaque commemorates its 80th anniversary of its publication. We were quite surprised to find this memorial, as yet again we had no idea that it was here! Our train to Ljubljana departed Zagreb at 12.35. Buying the tickets was a slightly surreal experience as the lady behind the counter had to write them out for us by hand, using carbon paper to take copies! The journey took around 2.5 hours, although it could have taken a lot less time if the train hadn't sat at the border for around 40 minutes. Our passports were checked first by Croatian police and then by Slovenian police. The only difference that Croatia joining the EU seems to have made is that the Croatian police don't stamp passports any more. We arrived in Ljubljana just after 15.00 and quickly located our apartment, which turns out to be really comfy It's 64 EUR per night including the city tax, which makes it one of our more expensive apartments, but it's in a really good location right by the river in Ljubljana. And we were even provided with some basic groceries, including bread, cheese, coffee and wine! We were starving by this point so went out for a meal and then had a preliminary stroll around Ljubljana. We walked along the river Ljubljanica... ...and could see Ljubljana castle looming high above everything. In the main square, Prešernov trg, there is a beautiful pink Franciscan church. There was an even better view of the castle from here. In the middle of the square there is a statue of Prešeren, a famous Slovene poet. We found a 3D map of Ljubljana, similar to the one we saw yesterday in Zagreb, but this didn't feature any Esperanto. So far Slovenia is an Esperanto-free zone. On the far side of the river we caught sight of Ljubljana's cathedral. We walked a little further down the river to my favourite bridge, Zmajski Most (Dragon Bridge). The weather isn't scheduled to be perfect over the next few days, but Slovenia is beautiful so I'm sure we will manage to have a good time regardless
  24. Today involved our longest journey of this holiday as we travelled from Cres to Zagreb via Rijeka. It was a fairly early start, with our first bus from Cres to Rijeka at 08.10. Having purchased the tickets well in advance, we did have reserved seats for this bus but when we got on we found that persons unknown had strewn all sorts of baggage across them. The bus was fairly empty so it didn't seem worth trying to argue about it and we went and sat in some empty seats further down the bus. As we made our way back across the island we had some amazing views of the coast. At times the road was quite close to the edge. It was hard to capture the views from a (very bumpy!) moving bus but it was beautiful. Within around 45 minutes we were back at the tip of the island, ready for the ferry back to the mainland. We arrived in Rijeka just after 10.30. The bus station there was rather chaotic, with the bus timetable not indicating the platform that the buses would depart from. We stood at the platform indicated on our tickets, hoping that there hadn't been any last minute changes, but grew increasingly anxious as the time for the bus to depart (11.00) came and went without any sign of the bus. Of course, it was operating on Croatian time and it eventually rolled up around 11.10. Unfortunately Rijeka wasn't the start of its route and that meant that the majority of the seats were already taken, including the ones we had allegedly reserved. In the mayhem of boarding the bus we just had to settle with being happy to get any seats at all, and eventually found two separate ones towards the back of the bus. The scenery on the journey from Rijeka to Zagreb was less dramatic, although we did still pass through some forested, hilly countryside. We arrived in the Croatian capital around 13.45 and made our way straight to our hotel, which is one that we have stayed at many times before and so knew was going to be comfortable After a brief rest we set out for a stroll around the city. The weather had improved significantly since we had left Cres and it was now a warm and increasingly sunny day. Leaving our hotel, we walked past the main train station and into Trg Kralja Tomislava (King Tomislav Square). Tomislav, featured above on a horse, was king of Croatia from around 910 to 928. He was the first real Croatian king and founded the first united Croatian state. His square is very pretty at this time of year with flowers and fountains. The yellow building in the photo is the art pavillion, built in 1898. Walking a little further, we found a statue of the Croatian author August Šenoa. I got a complete set of his works for Christmas last year, but still need to work up the courage to start reading them! There are lots of attractive leafy squares in this part of Zagreb. Last time we were here this one was full of Christmas lights and stalls selling mulled wine; it looked quite different today in the sunshine. Before long we were in Zagreb's main square, Trg bana Jelačića. Jelačić was the Ban of Croatian between 1848 and 1859 and tried to advance the cause of Croatian independence by playing the Austrians and Hungarians off against each other. He's a national hero in Croatia, although not terribly popular in Hungary! We stopped for a late lunch/early dinner in one of the restaurants above the main square, and marvelled at how inexpensive Zagreb prices appeared to be compared to tourist prices on the coast. By the time we had finished eating the remainder of the clouds appeared to have dispersed and there was a bright blue sky as we climbed up towards Zagreb cathedral. Unfortunately they are still doing renovation works on the facade. The renovation works are necessary because the stone originally used to build the cathedral has significantly eroded over time. The picture below shows what has happened to one of the original bits of the cathedral. In the background of the photo you can also see a clock, which stopped during the Zagreb earthquake of 1880 which also destroyed a lot of the cathedral. Zagreb is built on two hills, and having visited the one on which the cathedral is situated we headed back down in order to climb up the second one, where the government quarter is. This is where you can find one of Zagreb's most memorable sights, St Mark's Church. No matter how many times we come here, we never get tired of looking at the roof A little further downhill from the church is Lotrščak Tower, which was built in the thirteenth century as part of the defences of the old town walls. Every day at midday a cannon is still fired from the top of the tower. We heard it last time we were here and can confirm that it is very loud indeed! Fortunately all was more peaceful today From here you can see for miles out across Zagreb. Having seen the main sights, my main plan for the rest of the afternoon was a tour of Zagreb's bookshops. But before we embarked on that, we wanted to track down a tiny mention of Esperanto which we had encountered on a previous visit. Not far from the main square there is a big 3D model of the city. It's very intricate and fun to look at and work out where you've been. Here is the cathedral square for example. The bit we were looking for was a little ball on the edge of the map which says welcome in different languages... including Esperanto Mission accomplished, it was time to hit the bookshops! We spent a happy hour or so browsing and picking up a mixture of textbooks and fiction. Packing for the flight home is going to be interesting to make sure we have both our bags below 15kg We set off back to the hotel with our purchases to relax for the rest of the evening. It wasn't destined to be an evening of uninterrupted rest, however, as around half past eight there was a brief, unexpected shake accompanied by a loud rumbling sound. Our hotel is almost opposite the station, so at first I thought it might have been a train passing underground, although it eventually occurred to me that we shouldn't really be able to feel that from the third floor! A quick check on the internet confirmed the only other possible explanation: a small earthquake of 3.2 on the Richter scale had been recorded on the outskirts of the city! Earthquakes aside, Zagreb is a really pleasant city and it's been nice to be back here, however briefly Tomorrow we are continuing our travels, this time by train to Ljubljana.
  25. When we woke up in Cres this morning, it seemed that the weather forecasts predicting a storm for today had been correct. Although the sky still looked blue and cloudless in places, there were some ominous darker clouds gathering above the mountains and the trees outside our apartment were being blown quite strongly in the wind. Happily it was still warm enough to sit outside and have breakfast on the patio We decided we'd better make the best of the relatively calm weather before things took a turn for the worse, and so straight after breakfast began walking down into Cres town. We found one of the historical gates into the old town, complete with its Venetian lion. We also found this castle tower which looked like perhaps it had once been part of the town walls, although it is now standing on its own. After wandering around the town, we descended to the sea front and began walking along the coast in the opposite direction to the way we had gone yesterday evening. There is quite a long wide path in this direction and we were able to walk for several hours. The sea, which had been remarkably calm yesterday, was starting to look rather choppy. At times the waves were so large that they were splashing up onto the path and we got slightly wet a couple of times. There were some beautiful views of the island though as we walked further away from the town. After a while we came to a bright red lighthouse. We rounded a corner of the coast and suddenly found ourselves in a part of the bay which was completely sheltered from all the wind. There were even some brave souls out sunbathing. Eventually the path led us slightly upwards and towards some olive tree plantations. Growing olives is a significant source of employment on Cres. The sea was becoming choppier again here. We passed a beach with some steps for swimmers to descend into the water, but it didn't look like anybody would be using them today! The path came to an end on a gravelly little beach beneath the olive groves. It was time to turn around and head back to town again. As you can see, I was starting to look rather windswept! The winds were even stronger on the way back. We stopped at a little cafe on the edge of the town for a coffee and we had some fantastic views of the waves crashing up onto the promenade. We found an Italian restaurant in a comparatively sheltered spot to get lunch. I was extremely happy to see that they had miš-maš (a mixture between red wine and fanta) on the menu. It was starting to look increasingly cloudy, so we went straight back to the apartment after lunch. We had only been sitting and reading for a while when I heard a loud banging sound, which turned out to be the fence between our patio and the landlady's patio blowing open. Soon her entire family emerged to try and prop it back up again, eventually succeeding with the help of our patio table to support it. Not long afterwards the heavens opened and it began to rain torrentially. We haven't had the best weather for our stay in Cres, but we have enjoyed ourselves nevertheless. It was fun to walk by the sea today, even though it was rough Tomorrow we will be leaving the sea behind as we head to Zagreb for a brief overnight stop and then onwards to Slovenia.
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